Ben Whishaw (London Sunday Times Magazine, October 31, 2020)

Chrissy Iley and Ben Whishaw October 2020
Chrissy Iley and Ben Whishaw October 2020

I’ve met Ben Whishaw a few times now and I’ve decided he’s the most cat-like of any human being. It’s not just the eyes to mesmerise or a feline, slinky way of moving, it’s that you think he’s going to be all soft and vulnerable, Fluffy even. He seems to call you in and then you find that he’s surprisingly self-sufficient – pragmatic, even. He has certainly been super pragmatic in his acting choices, earning both the moniker of national treasure (he was the voice of Paddington, he’s Q in James Bond, Keats in Bright Star, Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited) and he is widely named The actor of his generation because of Hamlet (when he was not long out of drama school) and his brilliant Golden Globe-garnering performance as Norman Scott opposite Hugh Grant in A Very English Scandal (2019). He has certainly moved with dexterity between roles which were openly gay, sexually ambiguous and straight. He is the first actor to be able to do this – a beacon for others to follow. He is civil partners with Australian composer Mark Bradshaw although I’m guessing they don’t get to see that much of each other, what with him being the world’s greatest actor and all, he’s pretty busy filming around the globe – “Mmm” he says. We’re at his home in Chicago, where he’s currently filming Fargo. It’s in an area called Lakeside because of the views of a sparkling spring lake. It’s in a very old building, and he’s enjoying it. He says, “I think this year I am going to be much more at home – I’m gonna do my house up, it’s the time. It’s nice to be in-demand, but I do think I need to be at home for a little while. It’s been six months here, that’s a long time away. Mark visited, he came out for a month and I was back at Christmas. It’s definitely a big test.” What was unknown to us at the time, was how fast Whishaw’s prediction of home turf would come to light. A few days later, all flights to Europe were banned. There was a small window to get to the UK. Production had been halted and he doesn’t know for how long. Fargo was due for release April 18th, but now, like everything else, it will be delayed.

The Bond movie was the first big movie to announce that it was moving from early-April to November. Does he know why they took that decision so early? “I honestly have no idea, I just got a text message from Barbara saying that they were going to make the announcement. They never explained why – it must be related to the virus.” And perhaps because it’s called No Time to Die. We laugh. Perhaps a little too manically as we know scary times are to follow.

He’s wearing a blue shirt with a white sketched image on the back – a scene from Orpheus and Eurydice – and black trousers. His hair was cut really short in the summer, now it’s back to normal length: “in Fargo I wear a wig”. In Fargo he plays Rabbi X, does that mean he has a wig with Rabbi ringlets? “no, because I’m not really a Rabbi, I’m an Irishman who’s been raised by a Jewish family and now living with an Italian family. They’re all criminals, and they all call him Rabbi. They’re the people he’s part of. You can’t really see it, but I’ve got bits at the top shaved to make my forehead bigger because I have a tiny forehead. So they shaved my hairline to make the forehead higher. I think I look weird. I was happy to cut it very short, it was for a part. But when the filming was over, I properly shaved it all off and that felt great. Have you ever done that?” no, it’s different for girls, “oh, yeah”.

“I really like Chicago. I like being on the ninth floor and looking over the lake. I can watch the sun come up and watch it change. I can just sit on the sofa by the window for many hours and daydream. And I’ve had time to do that, which is lovely. The apartment is an Airbnb which I got sort of by accident.” Who knew that the words ‘Airbnb’ would sound so exotic these days. He’s recently given up meat, “I don’t feel healthier but I made the decision I was going to do it and I like to see things through. I wanted to do Fargo because the writer/director is exploring. It’s a lot about immigrants, it’s a lot about assimilating. How do you become an American and what does that mean? Who is let in and who is left out? My character is an outsider who doesn’t fit in anywhere.” People may assume that Whishaw is an outsider who doesn’t fit in, he always seems to go for the outsider roles and even when his characters aren’t outsiders he gives them quirks. “Hmm I don’t know, things are pretty contradictory.” For instance, Q is a techno-wizard who traditionally has seemed to be a foil for Bond, but living in a separate world of gadgetry. And yet, it is usually Q who comes up with something – a piece of super-enhanced techno that saves the day.

“I find it hard to talk about. Partly because it was long ago, although it wasn’t that long ago. It does feel like it. But also we never did get the full script. I did my bits not in the chronological order so I find it hard. Even though I’m not allowed to tell you what happens in the story, I couldn’t because of the way that it happened. But I can say, very late in the day I give him some technology that helps.”

Do they not give you a full script because everything is changing all the time or because they’re so paranoid that things will be leaked? “that’s a good question. It’s partly the secrecy that always surrounds it, but on this one to be honest, it was  a difficult journey. Although it was part-intentional, the director works in quite an improvisational way and we had a very tight deadline……. But as I say, they don’t tell us anything.”

Does he find it hard as an actor to not know where his character is going? “yeah I did find it hard to be honest, they don’t tell you anything.” He doesn’t  know if there will be another Bond let alone who that Bond will be, or if he’s in it. “I guess either they’ll call or they won’t.  When I go back to London I’m going to do another television series. It’s based on a book called This is Going to Hurt. It’s based on a man called Adam Kay who is a doctor, and it’s about his comedic but also tragic experiences working as a junior doctor in the NHS.” Is the doctor gay or straight, or that doesn’t come in to it? “He’s gay.” In the past decade, there’s been a sexual revolution in gay acting. In the olden days, gay actors only got to play gay roles. And there has recently been a theory that straight men shouldn’t play gay just like abled-bodies shouldn’t play quadriplegics. Personally, I think if you’re an actor, you act these things. “I’m in agreement with you.”

Whishaw was born in Clifton, Bedfordshire, his parents split when he was young and he has a non-identical twin brother. They are totally unalike: “He is blonde, came out first and was very pink. I was a squashed, dark thing. We were always dressed the same and were taken out together even to things I was not interested in, like football. I’ve always defined myself by him, but in opposition to him. I like everything different to him.” Nonetheless, they get on very well, and he is the perfect uncle. His mother worked on the make-up counters in department stores. His father was a footballer. It is often written that he’s an IT consultant: “he’s definitely not an IT guy, definitely not. He’s done all sorts of things – he worked for a company called Re-Diffusion, he ran a nightclub, and he managed a fleet of cars. Now he works in a sports facility. He doesn’t talk about it very much and I don’t press him. He’s barely stopping work.” Do you find it’s difficult to ask questions, like, it’s hard to ask your dad stuff? “no, I do ask people questions but sometimes not the people I know well. I feel with my dad I ought to have asked the question a long time ago and now it’s too embarrassing to ask it. And I know he would play-down what he does. I don’t know why he wouldn’t really want to share that kind of stuff with me, but more importantly, he’s a really good bloke. He gave his father his cats to look after when he started travelling a lot. His favourite cat was called Puki. “I was particularly close to her. She had a lovely voice – she sort of trilled and I do miss her. She was tortoise-shell, mainly black, with bits of orange and an asymmetric patchy face, she was very beautiful. She spent hours in the sink watching the tap – she was mesmerised by it.” We spend a little time trilling and making cat noises. Very important, but they don’t really translate to the written page.

I think people used to speculate more about sexuality ten years ago, or twenty. But ending that conversation – making something private public – was of course massive to him. After the civil partnership, it wasn’t all just easy, but I have the impression that it was easier than he imagined it to be. He is not direct about this. Although he’s open, he’s very private. I remember the BBC show The Hour. I loved it. set in late 1950s BBC. There was a ‘will they won’t they’ get-together situation with Romola Garai’s character. So it’s rubbish to think that if you’re gay you can’t play straight, it just takes cleverer navigation. Sir John Gielgud was out and proud, wasn’t he? He did play a lot of butlers…but some people have always managed to steer a course.

Mark Bradshaw is his civil partner, they are not married. Would he ever want to be? “no.” They met on set of Bright Star, directed by the Australian Jane Campion in 2009, the civil partnering was in 2012 and they have a home together in London. He says he’s looking forward to settling down more in London and the time has come to get cats. He is very much looking forward to cats. The last time we met, he reintroduced me to the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. This was before Marriage Story, when the song Being Alive was relaunched onto the public. I talked for hours about how the line ‘the coffee cup’ was small but brilliant. His favourite was ‘losing my mind’ and the line ‘or were you just being kind’. Now he says he hasn’t listened to the Barbra (Streisand) version or the Dame Edna version: “I need a break from that song, I find it quite painful to listen to.” My theory is you only listen to painful songs when you’re in pain. “yes, where you can sort of loosen it up – get it out. Wail. Cry. And feel free to let the pain out.” Emotional pain, too, seems something to be nostalgic for along with drinking a cup of coffee in a café. But good to know that he’s not in emotional pain. Just when you think everything is sorted and easy about him, he admits “I’m still afraid to meet people” on Mary Poppins he was afraid to meet Meryl Streep. Does the fear enlarge with the more famous the person is? “no, it’s anybody. I get anxious that I’m really bad at small-talk. And I’ve been doing a lot of hanging around on set, where I should be doing lots of small-talking. I’m just quite shit about it. I don’t know what to talk to people about.” Maybe it’s just because you think if you haven’t got anything in common with that person you can’t do small or big-talk. It’s just pointless. “Absolutely, I get anxious about it so now just think ‘I’ll sit here quietly and do my work’ or I get overwhelmed. There are so many people and I find it quite draining.” Now I see him as that independent cat who stops asking for headbutts and just puts their tail in the air and trots away.

We are in an East London eatery –  we sit outside on benches, inside is a vast emporium and lots of chandeliers but its beauty is infected with Corona virus restrictions – there is a track and trace which doesn’t work on my phone, ubiquitous hand sanitiser, and don’t go this way go that way – the vibe is very similar to when we met in Chicago. It feels like the we are seeing the dawn of something much worse that’s going to happen…

Whishaw looks a little thinner and more languid than before – Even in a chunky bottle green jumper and tiny waist jeans he looks like he could fall down the crack of a pavement enigmatically.  His wild hair is rather neatly coiffed. it’s as if it’s trying to contain itself and there is facial hair that defines his cheekbones even more than they already defined.

He didn’t come back and get London cats. Although part  of him still longs for that moment. He says, “I can’t take responsibility for myself at the moment much less cats.”

There is something portentous about the afternoon – as if it’s going to thunder but it doesn’t.   It’s more to do with we don’t know what social restrictions are coming and with them comes a life that nobody wants.  Right now he really wants a cheese toastie but somehow he doesn’t go and get it.  The bigger picture is that we feel like we’re on the eve of something bad again.  “It’s true but this time we’ve gone through it already and we don’t want to go there again but there seems no stopping it, it seems inevitable, inevitable bleakness.”

I change the subject to the TV series Fargo because it is screening soon.

“I was pretty much finished filming, I didn’t have to go back to Chicago but everybody else did and somehow they finished it. Somehow they actually managed to shoot things.  Everywhere is running out of content so people are desperate to get stuff finished that was nearly done.”

He was coming back to the UK for TV series about a doctor .  It has been postponed to January, “At the earliest,” he says.  He has gone from non-stop working to doing? “Nothing… I’ve been a bit of a hermit… Once we were forced to stop I didn’t have any inclination or desire to do anything really…”

The waitress explains that the cheese toastie has to be ordered at the deli counter not from her so he says that he will go up there in a minute but we know he won’t. He is stopped doing everything.

“I wanted to stop, I’ve seen my family when we were allowed to and I’ve gone for long walks and had loads of naps,“ he says, not even trying not to sound bleak.

I tell him that last years meme was “Do one thing a day that you are afraid of,” These years meme is, “Just do one thing.”  I tell him about the Instagram live show I did with Malminder Gill – the hypnotherapist.  We called it Love In the Time of Corona because there was so many problems when the dynamic of relationships suddenly changed and people couldn’t get away from each other – the divorce rate went up, “Yes,” he nods sagely.

Did he survive? “Yes I’ve survived but I’m not going to talk about it.“ There is no point in meandering around how the dynamic of he and his partner might of changed – he just looks, too done in to talk about it. He also says he’s lost his ability to predict anything, “Everything is so touch and go. And I don’t know how people are going to be feeling if we are we going into total lockdown again.  What’s going to happen? I don’t know I’ve given up thinking about it.”

He hasn’t seen the Bond movie in total.  “I have seen a tiny bit because as I had to come in and do some ADR.” He can’t be drawn to comment on it.  “It seems like I’ve got absolutely nothing to say about anything!!!”

Then he perks up, his eyes igniting.  “It looks like Bond is the one film that people might actually want to be persuaded to go out and see. People have been deprived of blockbusters and this is something that is diverse and multi generational, it could unite everybody. It appeals to a vast number of people…”

“It is hard to remember a time before walking around in masks, washing our hands every five minutes and sanitisers and this film was a time when people could go around like ……James Bond.  I think the Bond film is just what we really need right now, I really do.  We need something that is thrilling and fun and a kind of escapism. “

We talk about how much we miss the theatre.

“I sat in Regents Park and saw Jesus Christ Superstar on a screen I sat on the lawn and listened to I Don’t Know How to Love Him and it was so moving.  It had been such an effort, you couldn’t get into the theatre because the seats were sold out because there were so few of them, it was projected onto a screen for people who just wanted desperately to see something live with other people.  We saw the bravery and the commitment of the performers to a socially distant performance where the had to stand two meters apart, it was really beautiful.  I cried for the first twenty minutes.”

Because it was cathartic?

“Yes, perhaps…. I find that I can’t think about the future at all.  I can’t see what is going to happen beyond this second.  I can’t see the point in planning.  Although some people have been productive I am happy just to exist, get up whenever I needed, nap quite a bit, I have done absolutely nothing,” he laughs.

This is a person that is used to living not only off of adrenaline but pride in his work.  Someone who is used to being brilliant and basking in that.  He contradicts, “Maybe I was just busy. I trust sometime in the future it will come back.  For the moment, during lockdown, I painted my room blue, I learned how to put up shelves and pictures and I actually learned how to develop photographs, that is quite impressive isn’t it?” He says, not so impressed with himself.

This is a man who is used to throwing his entire being not just into another person but into another world.  He’s nothing if not overwhelmed by the minutia of lockdown and he just can’t wait to get back.  He wasn’t designed to do nothing but put up shelves.

Mica Paris (Mail Weekend, July 18, 2020)

I met Mica Paris back in the day when she was a famous pop star, beautiful voice and gorgeous girl.  I always knew she was more than just hot glamour and great vocals. We met again recently, just before lockdown via mutual friends, she had cooked amazing Jamaican chicken with rice and peas. This woman can cook. Celebrity Master Chef semi-finalist doesn’t even tell you the whole story. I think you can actually taste love on the plate.

First off, you think ‘what a strong  powerful woman’, but her strength comes from vulnerability and faith. She stands tall and confident, but on the very day we met, she’s nursing a heartache. Her best friend – Paul Field – an editor for the Mail group had unexpectedly died. They saw each other all the time and were working on a book together about female singers who rocked the world. Right now, she is about to rock the world with a BBC documentary: Mica Paris and Gospel Music. It’s built around six songs about suffering and redemption over three centuries. Mica has always had faith. She grew up in the church; she and her siblings were brought up by their Pentecostal grandparents. Her grandfather was a pastor and everything was very strict. From a young age, she sang in church. I’m eating her delicious Jamaican chicken: “I’m a food person. I cook really good. I can cook anything – Japanese, Jamaican. I cannot bake to save my life”, then she lets out a big dirty laugh. Rylan was her rival semi-finalist, she loved him: “he’s a wonderful guy, I was very pleased about my Jamaican chicken dish, everyone was saying how wonderful it was. But then I saw flour, milk, eggs and sugar and I thought I was gonna die. It meant baking. I couldn’t even breathe because I knew I was going to get kicked out, and I made the worst crepes ever.”

This week (June 22) she releases the song In Broad Daylight- vocals that reach inside your heart and all proceeds going to Black Lives Matter and Mobo Music awards Charitable Trust

And  she’s made the definitive gospel music documentary full of detail and resonance– everyone can relate to these songs. Hearing her sing brings a warm shimmer to the soul, it seems particularly fitting that this program should come out just post-lockdown. Watch it, and even though you might not be religious, you understand why churches need to open. “It’s produced by Lenny Henry’s company. I wanted to do two programs, one talking about gospel music and the other talking about all the women singers – Ella Fitzgerald, Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston – who had been tortured in the business. The BBC wanted me to do the gospel first because it’s my heritage, it’s about me. The program opens up with Stormzy at 2019 Glastonbury performing a rap version of ‘…’. It’s moving, and he literally brings the entire Glastonbury crowd to church. “Church was like a little community. It was a social event, it worked for me. When I was a kid, I felt I had a party trick. I would hold that note and the room went ‘oooommmm’. I felt like Bill Withers on ‘Lovely Day’.

“I come from a family of six, I desperately wanted to be noticed, so you had to do what you had to do.” Growing up, she had to be extremely well-behaved.

It’s normal in Caribbean families that the children are looked after by the grandparents. She saw her parents all the time: “my grandparents were lovely but super strict. As my grandfather was a pastor, we were the first family of the church so we had to be really circumspect. My Sunday clothes and Sunday shoes could not be touched for the whole of the week and on Sunday we had to have a beret to cover your head for church. Everyone looked at the first family for leadership. So when my parents were playing out, I was not allowed. I was in the house doing choir practice. A Victorian house in Lewisham that’s five bedrooms, a garden, a dog, a rabbit, a chicken and a cat. We still ate chicken rice and peas – just not that chicken. Everyone came to the house so there were lots of activities like a Monday prayer meeting, a Tuesday Bible study, so going out wasn’t even an option, but there was always something going on at home. It didn’t even feel weird. When I got to fifteen, I suddenly wanted to go out with my friends. And I did. And my grandmother followed me to my friend’s house. There was this dark figure darting around the street, watching me, going around the corner. She was very strict. But in a weird way, I don’t think she was controlling, just protective. And I’m actually thankful they were like that because a lot of my friends ended up really messed up. And going into the music business actually really helped me. I moved out when I was sixteen and signed my first deal at seventeen.”

She was studying art at Vauxhall college, and went to live with her sister in Brixton. “My grandparents had a complete meltdown and said ‘you’ve got to come back home’ it was horrible.” What were her parents doing at this point? “My mum and dad would visit us at weekends. They were total sixties children, all about the party – so imagine the contrast. The very strict Pentecostal upbringing. My grandad always wore a tie at home, we would have three meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – and were never allowed to eat between meals. Dinner was served at six o’clock, and then you don’t eat again until the morning. When I used to go visit my mum and dad at weekends, it was curries, goat, chicken all the time and dub music, and people walking in and out of my mum’s house. I actually didn’t like it. I preferred the quiet and chill of my grandparents’. It’s a very Caribbean thing, that the children were looked after by the grandparents. It was about stepping in and looking after the children while the parents work. I remember getting told off by lots of people – mum, dad, grandparents, aunties, uncles. A line of people were telling me to behave myself. You didn’t say anything, it was all about ‘respect your elders and shut up’.” For anybody this would be hard to take, but for Mica, who is all about self-expression and telling it like it is, she found it impossible: “I couldn’t take it. I got to sixteen, and I moved out. I left the idyllic quiet life and strict upbringing and I thought ‘this is great’.” It’s always a woman to embrace extremes and feel quite at home in both of them. She was the youngest of the girls and then three boys followed. The three sisters sang together. Her elder sister, Dawn, has a PhD and is a lecturer  The next sister, Paula, is a well known gospel singer.

Singing in church and singing with her first record label were a lifetime apart, much further than the distance from Lewisham to Brixton. “My granddad said ‘you’re going to become a harlot’. I had to look up in the dictionary what that meant. And I told him I was prepared. I had had fifteen years of Jesus and I was prepared.” Curiously, she can still quote with precision and passion from the Bible. She might have left Jesus, but I’m not sure Jesus ever let her go. “No, it never does. In fact, it got me through the pitfalls. You know, how one minute you’re loved and everyone wants you, and the next minute you’re just gone. I’ve had many peaks in my career, and many lows.” Peaks included her debut single My One Temptation – it was a worldwide smash, and two seasons of hosting What Not to Wear, as well as successful Radio Two presenting shows, Mica Meets  and West End musical like Fame

“There have been many lows, and it’s my faith in God that gets me through that. I don’t go to church, but I pray. I pray in the morning, I pray in the evening. And I have a faith that is unshakeable. I believe there is something bigger than us, I’ve seen it work in my life many times.

Just yesterday I was speaking to Chaka Khan who is one of my oldest friends, and God-Mother to my eldest, Monet. She wants me to do some shows with her in America. I remember when I lost my second deal with EMI records. It was a time when they had Robbie Williams and they decided he was their next king, and anyone else didn’t get a look in. I made this album ‘Black Angel’, produced it, wrote it, did everything myself. And EMI said ‘this album is too urban we don’t know what to do with it’, I was devastated. I had been making this album for two years, I was with Raphael Saadiq and James Ingram. I suffered for that, it was 1997. Horrible times.” I wonder if anyone would say that these days, ‘it’s too urban’

Urban was a dirty word .it meant unplayable. Despite how far we’ve moved, clearly racism still hurts us all. “I went mental at EMI and said ‘I’m gonna be here after this building is gone’, I walked out, went back to my flat, and suddenly thought ‘what have I done?’ I haven’t got a deal, I haven’t got any money. And that’s when I got a phone call from Chaka who was in London doing a play, Mama, I Want to Sing! and she said ‘I hate it, the only way I can get out of this play is if you take it’. No problem, so the other day I said ‘you know, Chaka, you saved me’. I had no money, and I had paid thousands for this record, then lost the deal. Then I got this, that’s God.

I was in that show for six months and one day a producer Mike Peden, who produced I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, by The Chimes  came to the show and wanted me to do another  U2 song called One. I’d never heard the song (even though it’s one of U2’s most famous) so I did my version without being influenced by the original, and it was a massive hit. Bono wrote me a beautiful letter saying I did a great job. It just shows you how, in this business, you have to have faith, everyone had written me off, saying I had had my moment then I had a resurgence.” Here’s hoping that Black Angel will now have resurgence along with her new career as a documentary maker.

She has two daughters, Monet and Russia, and for now she’s a single mum.  We reminisce about a man she loved very much, Max Beesley. “We were together for four years, but Max then was not who he is today (a sought-after television actor who starred in Suits) he was playing in Paul Weller’s band. I was just splitting up with Monet’s father,  and  I was heartbroken then I met Max and we totally fell in love, I couldn’t help myself. I had had a lot of dalliances in my life,  Max was one of  the best things that ever happened to me. The problem was the timing, I was so traumatised by the breakup of the marriage to Monet’s father it didn’t matter that Max saved up for four months to buy me a ring, he was only a session musician. But he was a legend, the best step-father and the best boyfriend you could ever have. But did I see it at the time? No. I was still traumatised by the previous relationship.

“He’s making another record and he wants me to get involved, which of course I will. He’s married now and living in LA. But if I could rewind the clock… Divorce is not easy, I was 25, had this little girl, Max was amazing, though I couldn’t see it then. We’re still friends.”

Gospel is all about  stories of suffering and redemption, you feel it  hard when she sings … .. she’s been through it.

In the program, she’s in a house in Memphis, which was a safehouse for slaves seeking their freedom. It was a basement. When the screen goes black and you imagine the darkness that they lived in and their fear for life itself Mica cries, anyone who watches it will cry. It’s no surprise that Mica rose up from nervous breakdowns: “I had a nervous breakdown after I split from Max.”

What happened? “I had a mass of anxiety attacks after I split from him. A doctor came round and called it ‘an anxiety attack’ I couldn’t breathe and thought I was going to die. They gave me morphine and told me I’d taken on too much. I was financially supporting many people and I was getting over the breakup. I had to stop being mummy to everybody, it was killing me. I hadn’t realised how much emotional support Max had been giving me until we split, and that’s when it all fell apart.”

Her pop career was  still soaring  she  became close with Prince he wrote if I Love You Tonight for  her. and had had  a couple of encounters with Whitney Houston: “I’d just had my first hit record, My One Temptation, and you used to have to go to Germany to do this TV show. –  it was like German Top of the Pops. Whitney was there. We had to do several rehearsals because the shows were not live, and all of a sudden we’re waiting in the greenroom and a big stretch limo turns up outside. I mean, you’ve never seen a limo as long as this, it took up the whole street. My record was killing it at this point, I was starting to get the bodyguards and that lifestyle, but not a limo the size of a street. Who’s got a car that big? Six bodyguards walk out, and then Whitney. She sang I Wanna Dance with Somebody. She was beautiful, super thin. Really shy. And awkward. Not comfortable in her own skin. We decided we’d go and have dinner afterwards. I told her ‘I think you’re really great.’ At the dinner table, she was playing footsie under the table, I think she was really into me but I had just come from the church and I was like ‘what? I don’t get it.’ I’m from south London, we don’t do that.”

They had stuff in common, they both came from a church background, “. I was 18, and although I loved her to bits, I was freaking out. Our next encounter was a year or so later when I got invited to Wembley when she was doing a concert. When I met her backstage, I said ‘good to see you’ I thought ‘this woman is so beautiful’. Forget the pictures, in real life she was so mesmerising, and I’m not even gay.” At that time, she was having a relationship with one of her female managers, Robyn. She was the best. She was strict with her but took good care of her. And then Bobby (Brown) came along: “he and I were really good friends, he liked my voice but he fancied my sister. We had a great time and lots of laughs and then Bobby met Whitney. Let me tell you, Bobby was a really good person, but he was influenced by others who were  naughty. Do I think Bobby changed when he met Whitney? No. I think when Robyn was kicked out, Whitney went down. I don’t blame Bobby for Whitney, he just wasn’t strong enough to help her i think

The documentary shows the power of singing and redemption in a world where there was none. In a world where there are so many Black Lives Matter protests, it becomes all the more poignant. “We’ve got to remember, my thing is – and this is very hard to say as a black person – I love people, I love everybody, I don’t understand racism. I’ve even been told by my own people that I’m ‘not black enough’ because my children are mixed race. People even told Whitney she was ‘too white’ and that’s why she made the record Your Love is My Love, because she was trying to be black.” Whitney was famously controlled by Clive Davis and tamed into a pop princess. Mica’s record boss was Chris Blackwell at Island Records, who didn’t try to change her. “Bobby was fun, and an amazing performer, but he still had to go home to Whitney. And I don’t think women should ever have to apologise when they’re more successful than their man. He loved her, yes, but he wasn’t as big as her, and he was massive at one time. But he was with the queen so he wasn’t as massive. I feel the same thing happened with Amy Winehouse. I put her on  my live show at Jazz Café which accompanied my Radio Two show called Soul Solutions. She wasn’t known at the time.

‘Gospel and women performers are my two loves. And this is the book I was writing with Paul, about why female singers are so tortured. Amy was always apologising for being successful. “Paul and I were best friends for 18 years, we met when my brother Jason was shot three times and killed by gun-crime. It was a massive story. Everyone was asking for the exclusive. Paul called and said ‘just wanted to say Should Have Known Better is one of my favourite songs of all time.’ I had had hell with that song because no one wanted to release it because it was ‘too black ’, it was also Whitney’s favourite song. I was so impressed the journalist even knew it, it had been relegated to a b side – so I said yes to the exclusive. And we became best mates, every month we’d have lunches that would go on for five or six hours. We’d go on holiday with his children and wife Michaela who is adorable Two weeks before he died we had a lovely dinner, and for the first time ever we went out raving afterwards. We were both passionate about food so going to a club was unusual.  although he was also passionate about music – he had over 7,000 vinyl records. We went out and danced for two and a half hours, he died right after that. He was my best friend, I loved him. He’d take a bullet for you, in fact for lots of people. His dad had died in November 2019 and I don’t think he ever got over that. He was so good to so many people.”

She’s emotional, composes herself and talks about new projects. Her last Radio Two series was Mica Meets, where she interviewed people like Gladys Knight and Sister Sledge. And before that she took over from Trinny and Susanna presenting What Not to Wear. In an industry which is sexist and ageist, she’s coming into her time again – documentaries, acting and more.

Her cousin is boxer Chris Eubank: “he’s always said the British write you off when you get to a certain age, but if you’re passionate and you want to be relevant you still can.”

In Broad Daylight is out now.

The Gospel According to Mica  is out July 25 on BBC 4.


Michael Sheen (Mail Weekend, June 20, 2020)

There have been no lockdown haircuts for Michael Sheen. His hair is big. A mass of charcoal cherubic curls, paired with a bushy beard – not the kind you used to see people in Apple Stores sporting. It’s entirely unmanicured. He says he never changes his hair until he begins a part and then they instruct changes. This was his hair in the lockdown comedy drama Staged, in which he stars with his friend David Tennant, an exquisitely observed drama about insecure male actors rehearsing a play – Six Characters in Search of an Author, to be staged when lockdown is over. Sheen has pretty much been the star of lockdown anyway, his dazzling Chris Tarrant from the acclaimed and wonderful Quiz was the high point of the start of lockdown when we were all at our lowest. For a mercurial, sensitive Welshman, he is curiously upbeat. His new baby, Lyra, with his partner Anna Lundberg, a Swedish actress (around 25 years his junior) is complaining loudly in the background. I ask if she’s disturbed, he says she’s excited – how ‘glass full’ is that?

Sheen and I last met a few years ago in a restaurant in LA, his parents joined us – they were lovely. He was living there because he was working full-time on epic series like Masters of Sex and because his first family, daughter Lily with actress Kate Beckinsale lived there.

Theirs was a deep love affair but didn’t stand the tests of time, fame, or whatever it is that makes people who love each other not want to be with each other. He has had many long encounters with beautiful famous actresses such as Rachel McAdams and Sarah Silverman, but with Anna, he seems properly settled and unphased by lockdown: “it was always my plan to take time off and spend time over here with family, my parents are only 20 minutes away and the new series of Prodigal Son will be in New York but nobody’s sure when”. Does he fill with nostalgia when he sees Netflix + palm trees + Californian blue sky: “we don’t get to watch much TV at the moment, we’re busy with the baby, so we listen jealously when we hear other people talk about a boxset or anything else they’ve binged watched. I do miss it a bit, although the weather at the moment is Los Angeles-like in Wales and we spend a lot of time in the garden. I feel really fortunate that lockdown was in this period of time because I wasn’t going to be working anyway. I was just filming Prodigal Son in New York, we came back to Wales, my plan was to have a break – the plan was not to do any work so I didn’t have to pull out of anything and nothing was cancelled, and because of the baby it’s not massively different to how it would have been anyway. We would have been seeing my mum and dad more – which we haven’t done, but in the context of a really strange time for everyone, I am grateful for the small mercies, and it became weirdly busy”. He also appeared in a production of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood with key workers, doctors and teachers, where each one of them recited a few words about a sleeping Welsh fishing village (it appears online): “a lot of things came in and a lot of things that people ask me to do I can’t do because I’m working, but they knew I wasn’t working or going anywhere so it was harder to say no, and besides I want to help where I can”. ‘Help’ is in his nature, he’s run several charity football matches: ‘Football Stars Against Actors’ for Unicef. Last year, when he staged ‘The Homeless World Cup’ in Cardiff, some funding dropped out and he had to pay for everything himself. He ‘put it all on the line’ for the Homeless World Cup. He said at the time “we got into a bit of a state so I essentially put everything I had into this, you either commit to this stuff of you don’t. I have the opportunity to earn money, at this point I can work as much as I want. I figured, if I’m not prepared to give it all away, what am I doing?” When he was a pre-teen he was offered a place to train with the Arsenal junior team, his parents decided against it, it was one of those moments where his life could have taken a different fork. And even though he is passionate about soccer, he would have never have been an actor if he had been a footballer, and even at twelve he understood when his father explained how few people really make it big in the Premier League and how short their careers are anyway. His mother, Irene Sheen, was a secretary but was super poetic, and he feels a huge kinship to her. His father, Meryick, was a manager but also a full-time Jack Nicholson impersonator. He’d show up at premieres that Jack couldn’t make it to, and try not to speak in a welsh accent.

When Staged came up (for BBC One): “it was a chance to work with David that I thought would be quite fun. I loved working with David on Good Omens and we became good friends. We knew each other socially, although we hadn’t acted together again. In the period of Good Omens, which was a long time, it was just me and him together for a long period. And then even longer promoting it, going around the world. We both had babies at around the same time. David and Georgia had their little baby Birdy, although he’s got about a hundred other children, and we had Lyra, so we had been sharing baby stories.

On the show, they look like impenetrable close friends, but they are good actors so it’s hard to know, even though Sheen insists he’s playing a version of himself. He left it a couple of decades between children so “we’ve been sharing a lot of different experiences, aside from enjoying each other’s company. People talk about our chemistry as characters and it’s true, we do have chemistry and it’s very interesting to explore that. We are playing ourselves but they’re still characters really. David is straightforward when it comes to working, there’s no ego, no mess-around, he turns up, he’s brilliant. He makes it so easy”. And that’s exactly how Sheen is, no ego, no fuss, just brilliant work. And then he deflects from the compliment: “I think David makes me a better person and a better actor”. He doesn’t even mind, although I mind for him, that his Chris Tarrant was reviewed by some critics as an ‘impersonation’, he’s not an impersonator, he’s a wonderfully nuanced actor who is capable of taking the essence of the person, real or fictional, and showing what matters about them most: “it doesn’t matter if people discredit you, the show was so well received. No one ever imagined, when it came out, we’d be in this lockdown situation. It worked in our favour because people were looking forward to things to watch and this is what brought people together”. That, and Normal People: “like I said, we don’t have much time to watch things, but we are slowly making our way through that, and it’s beautiful”. Sheen famously played Blair three times in The QueenThe Deal and The Special Relationship. He was very good at that, after that he went on to play David Frost in Frost/Nixon on stage and screen versions. And football boss Brian Clough in The Damned United, but playing Blair three times made a close association in the public eye, and one horrific experience for me, after I had interviewed him the first time. This voice came on the phone saying it was Tony, and I thought it was Michael pretending to be Tony, but it was actually Tony. So that only led to an association of personal embarrassment. One reviewer referred to Michael Sheen as Martin Sheen, the veteran actor, so Michael’s reaction was to change his Twitter handle for some time. The name Michael was never meant to be his in the first place, his parents called him Christopher, but when he was in hospital, a nurse put the wrong baby tag on him: “due to some complications, I was separated from my mother for a few days and when my mum and dad came to pick me up and take me home, they said ‘we’ve come to pick up baby Christopher’ and they said ‘we don’t have a baby Christopher, we have a baby Michael’, so they named me Michael Christopher. I also did one of those family tree programs where they said that my ancestors had come over from Ireland and one of them had 20 children but only five of them had survived – all the boys called Michael had died, so I avoided the curse of Michael Sheen because my parents had named me Michael. So, by accident I snuck around the family curse”. At the moment, though, he seems more blessed than cursed, even making lockdown work for him. I wonder, could one really rehearse a play in lockdown so they could be performed? “you could up to a certain point, you could work on it. The first weeks of rehearsing anything is talking through stuff.”

Does he miss the theatre? “I do. I miss doing a play on stage in front of an audience. But when I wake up, doing a play, it’s the first thing that hits me – I’ve got to do a play tonight. It feels depressive and I feel anxious before the performance, even though it’s a couple of hours a day, it takes over your life and it’s hard to focus on anything else. It’s much more consuming than working on film and TV, although paradoxically you only spend a few hours doing it, it takes up more bandwidth. I love the feeling of acting on stage in front of an audience”. And the camaraderie of working with fellow actors? “yes, but you get that working on a film or TV show, especially if they’re long-running ones. When you’re in the theatre, you don’t spend much time with other actors until you’re actually on stage. When you’re filming you’re all sitting around between takes, so there’s much more a sense of the group during filming”. So working in an actual theatre with a new baby was never an easy equation: “yeah, it could be a lot worse. It’s not been as disruptive for us personally, but we’re very aware of how it affects people”. She’s quiet now, less disturbed and excited. On the whole is she a good baby? “she’s a baby, I don’t really divide them into good babies and bad babies, the whole experience is just wonderful. It’s all the fun of sleepless nights and nappies being changed. It’s wonderful to go through it again”. Is it surprisingly different from your first baby-daddy experience? “I don’t think so, when my first daughter was born, it was an extraordinary experience, life-changing. It does feel like one of the most profound experiences you can have. It changes everything. So I can’t say I was surprised but on another level you don’t know what to expect. What has changed since last time is car seats. These days they actually fit. I remember last time wrangling around with the seat belt, now you just have something that fits permanently in the car, it’s easy. Prams and stuff, easy. Technology has changed for the better, but the basics of sleepless nights and poo-y nappies are just as bad and difficult to deal with. But it’s amazing, the best experience ever.

Staged focuses on insecurities and quirks that come up with lockdown: “obviously it tests relationships because there are very few people that would spend this much time together constantly. I’m sure some thrive and some are shown crack. I think it’s important to be able to speak to one another and express yourself and what’s going on. So even not in lockdown conditions, relationships can be better if people share what’s going on. A massive generalisation is that men are not as good as expressing their feelings as women”. Paradoxically though, Sheen is good at expressing emotions. Possibly because he has a direct channel for those emotions in acting, but also because he’s fearless about emotions which is a rarity and makes him rare as an actor. “I’ve been lucky in another sense because my parents are only 20 minutes away. My sister and I take it in turns to do the weekly shop for them. I see them then, they stand in the doorway and I stand two metres away and drop off the food. But I know it’s difficult, particularly for my mum (who likes to hug everyone) and she had to have her birthday on lockdown. And even with the baby, although technology allows us to have contact, with FaceTimeZoom and Skype, the baby’s changing all the time and my mum and dad are really aware of that, and it’s frustrating that they can’t see her much even though we’re only down the road.

They were never comfortable using technology but a lot of people have had to get comfortable with that and step up. Although, saying that, there have been a lot of facetime calls where I’m faced looking at a wall. But the family have done a group-chat over Zoom, so they’ve done really well to do that, and I’m grateful that we’ve been able to stay in contact”. It seems like Sheen didn’t do some of the lockdown things that were everyone else’s insecurities: the lockdown haircut, the lockdown texting the ex, or have the lockdown anxiety that they were going to kill their partner if they heard them blink one more time. “I have seen a lot of dodgy haircuts going on. Friends of mine have said ‘I’ve let my kids cut my hair’ which is obviously taking your life in your hands, so I’ve avoided that”. He also seems to have avoided neurosis, over-self-examination and fears for the future. There will be another season of Prodigal Son, he doesn’t know when. And another season of There’s Something About Movies, for Sky TV, he doesn’t know when. Perhaps it’s the baby, perhaps it’s being home and close with his parents, he’s become extremely patient.

Robert De Niro (London Sunday Times Magazine, February 2, 2020)

Robert De Niro

Still as much of a celebrity magnet as it was when it first opened, Nobu, famed for its sushi, has spread from a single LA restaurant to a worldwide phenomenon, these days with bedrooms to extend the experience of fabulousness. This summer, a second Nobu Hotel will open in London, in Portman Square, to join its sister hotel in rather more edgy Shoreditch and two standalone Nobu restaurants, both in Mayfair. How has this American import, which brought the now ubiquitous “black cod with miso” dish to Britain in the late 1990s, managed to evade the vagaries of foodie fashion and become a solid success story? The answer probably lies in its celebrity connection — but one in the boardroom rather than the dining room.

When, not so long ago, I spend time with the Hollywood actor Robert De Niro — co-founder of the chain — I find him gentle, kind, empathic, funny. Initially one thinks “actor decides to be restaurateur and hotelier in twilight years because actor needs back-up as they’re not getting the roles”. But De Niro is getting the roles. His much lauded film The Irishman is up for 10 Oscars next weekend. He was also rather brilliant in Joker , with Joaquin Phoenix — another awards big contender. He’s happy to multitask as an actor and Nobu impresario. De Niro has a very distinctive look. It’s somewhere between angry, tired and curious. He’s wearing a very lived-in jacket, his shirt is crumpled. His new black suede trainers look at odds, his hair is grey but full and longish. When he stands up, you try to work out: is he tall? Officially 5ft 10in, somehow he transcends height. He’s a man who is passionate — his passions also seem to transcend size. He’s a man of few words, but his words are usually either impactful or funny. The eyes, which can twinkle very disarmingly, narrow when he speaks to you, so you’re not sure if he is scrutinising your soul or about to fall asleep. But he’s much more approachable than you imagine, friendly even.

How come someone of such impeccable Italian heritage likes Japanese food so much? De Niro laughs. “I’ve got Italian, German and English all in me.” His mother was of Dutch-French-German- English ancestry, his father Irish-Italian. The story of his side hustle as a restaurateur and hotelier began about 25 years ago, when De Niro was a regular at a small but cool Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles called Matsuhisa, whose chef and patron was Nobu Matsuhisa, running his first place in the city. The Japan-born chef had honed his speciality, black cod marinated in miso (see recipe, page 47), in Alaska. Before that he was in South America. De Niro has worked out that I have trouble saying the name of Nobu’s first restaurant, which is actually Nobu’s last name — Matsuhisa. He tries to teach it to me over and over again as if I am a baby learning to speak. When he’s satisfied, I tell him the first time I went to Matsuhisa, Kelly Osbourne took me. She said it was a family restaurant that she’d grown up in.

“Well, I was there one night with a British friend, Roland Joffé [director of The Mission], and I told Nobu, ‘If you ever want to open a restaurant in New York, let me know.’ And a few years later he said, ‘I’m ready.’” One taste of Nobu’s signature dish was all it took. “I had the cod and that told me right away, this guy is really special,” De Niro says. Is he good at making instant assessments of people? He nods.

“I like him. He’s low-key and I knew that there is no way this restaurant would not have worked in New York.” De Niro brought in his friend Meir Teper, a financier. I catch up with both of them, along with Matsuhisa, at the Nobu Hotel in Las Vegas. Teper, a former fashion impresario and film producer, is now in his seventies, but he’s still lithe and elegant from an early career as a dancer in his native Israel. I wonder, did he meet De Niro on a movie? Teper explains. “We were friends first. I worked with him on movies a couple of times, but I met Bob through another producer friend.”

Was it an instant feeling of a kindred spirit? “It was, actually. We talked, but not that much. Because he had a good feel about me. More than I had about him because he’s the big star. One day he called and said, ‘Do you want to come with me to Deauville film festival in France?’ I said sure. He was there to promote [the 1987 film] The Untouchables. Paramount got me a ticket. I met him in London and we hung out together. Then we flew to Deauville, and after that every time he went on a trip he called me. He felt comfortable travelling with me. We became friends and we started travelling together. If he was going out on the road for promo or location-scouting he liked me to join him. We like the same things. We like looking at things and we like hotels.” Together they could escape the crowds and the media. A comfortable hotel room and a comfortable friend was exactly what De Niro wanted.

“I remember one time we went to London,” says Teper. “We always would travel under different names, but somehow someone at British Airways told the press and when we landed the paparazzi were everywhere. We were in a limo with the paparazzi all following us. Bob says, ‘Don’t go to the hotel. Let’s go to this other hotel that has an entrance in the front and we’ll come out the back and get a black cab to our hotel,’ which was the Savoy. We lost the paparazzi — it was like a movie, but it was real life.” You can see why they get on. They’re both men of few words who, when they warm up, don’t shut up. They like talking about details: food and bed linen, places and cultures. They can go on for ever about such things and they can also be quiet with one another.

In what sounds like a movie title, De Niro, Teper and Nobu Matsuhisa are called The Stakeholders. Stakeholder is where it’s at, rather than CEO or controller; they’ve put in the money, the time, the skill. Teper says: “Bob brought me to Matsuhisa, saying, ‘I found a nice Japanese restaurant. We should have dinner there.’ It was a very small restaurant with 30 seats — and Nobu was talking to every table and cooking for them. We all became friends.” He liked De Niro’s idea to bring Nobu to New York. “The idea was to invest and hopefully get my money back,” Teper explains.

“I used to travel to New York a lot and I wanted to have a place to have food there as good as we have in Beverly Hills, and to meet friends.” Never underestimate that old Cheers bar factor. A place you can call your own. Where everybody knows your name. Or at least your sushi preference. Teper continues. “After New York, we were so successful people started saying, ‘Can we have Nobu London? Can we have Nobu Vegas?’ Nobu’s a chef, Robert De Niro’s an actor. I was the only business person in the group. I understood how to negotiate, how to make the deal.” Gradually Teper’s interests in film and fashion disappeared. “I’m so busy with Nobu and I put so much time into it, everything else has gone away.” De Niro takes pleasure in just observing a room. The image that stays with me is Teper and De Niro sitting in the rooftop penthouse suite of the Nobu Hotel in Vegas. It’s the hotel’s fifth birthday party. Caviar and Moët are being served; Nobu chefs in white coats are making sushi and grilling things while leggy girls serve champagne and lychee martinis.

None of the stakeholders even looks at them. Teper and De Niro watch everything as if it’s on a screen, as if they’re in a different movie of their own. This party is for all the casino high rollers. There is no VIP area, no silver cord, yet the stakeholders keep to themselves. De Niro looks content, approachable, but no one does approach him. How does he balance the Nobu empire with his acting career?

“I’m not doing what they do,” he says, referring to his business partners. “I’m here when they need me. We always ask each other for input. I’m front and centre when needed.” He doesn’t do the deals like Teper does, he is the metaphor for the brand. They need him to be still acting. “These days, we have meetings on set if it’s not a tough day. Sometimes I’m waiting around a lot, so we sit in my camper. Sometimes you need less distraction. It depends. Sometimes you need to get your mind off something. It’s a welcome distraction. ”De Niro and his chef, meanwhile, are very different, yet seem to relax each other, almost like a Morecambe and Wise Christmas show. “I cook from my heart,” Nobu says. “Why does everyone like their mother’s food? Because the mother cooks for the kids with heart. I don’t ever want to forget to cook with heart, with passion. It’s about making people happy. Success never makes people happy.” Was his mother a good cook? “Oh yes. She would always have ask what I wanted to eat tonight, tomorrow? Always with heart.” I wonder if this is the secret. I ask De Niro if his mother was a good cook? “Not great,” he replies.

If he was a Nobu dish, what would he be? “I might be the artichoke salad.”

I was rather hoping to be the artichoke salad myself. Soft and creamy on the inside, crispy on the out.

“OK,” he says without a fight. “I guess I’d be a big fish. The cod.”

”The black cod with the sweet misoon the side that you don’t discover straight away?”


Rupert Grint – Mail Weekend (Jan 2020)

Rupert Grint and Chrissy Iley
Rupert Grint and Chrissy Iley

I first met Rupert Grint over 5 years ago – the Harry Potter films were already over but a whole generation still felt they owned him. He was their friend, their brother, their personal wizard. As we sat having coffee in a tucked away street a dozen people in the course of an hour called out “Ron! Ron! Ron!” and asked for selfies. He didn’t seem irritated by this level of invasive fame, he just obliged. Today, it’s been nearly a decade since Harry Potter ended and he’s managed some personal wizardry – people still stop him every day, he is still one of the most famous people in the world and still responsible for revitalising Ginger. Curiously, he has managed to keep such a lot of his life private, for instance, he has been together with actress Georgia Groome (from Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging) since 2011, but nobody knew they were a couple until about a year ago.

He is next on screen on Apple TV in which is possibly his first fully fledged grown-up role. The show is addictive, creepy, twisty, turny; I was going to watch 1 episode but binged 5, I couldn’t believe it was so good. Shyamalan says that Rupert was pivotal. He’s not the lead role, he’s the main character’s brother, but he steals the screen in such a way that he makes it his own. In the show, as Julian, he wears his snazzy suit, one of them a blue tartan tweedy affair which is both ridiculous and charming – a bit like him. His sister is Lauren Ambrose, flame-haired actress from Six Feet Under. They actually look as if they could be related: “ever since I saw her in Six Feet Under, I always wanted to play her relation” – see, he manifested it.

Today  when we meet in his room in a smart London hotel he is wearing a thick black jacket and black roll-neck and a necklace with a few charms, one of which is a heart that says ‘happy birthday, Anne, 1967’: “I have no idea who she is but I like to think about who she might be. I got it at a vintage market in Philadelphia. I’m a bit of a collector”. Indeed, he’s got a rare elephant bird egg, a skeleton of an ostrich which stands in his dining room, and several ancient bones. Is Antiques Roadshow his guilty pleasure? “Not so guilty – not guilty at all, I love it. I love hearing the stories of the relationships people have with these objects. And I’m into… stuff. Fiona Bruce presents it and she’s really good, I don’t know if I could do it better but I’ve not got a bad knowledge and I can identify bits of ceramic so I wouldn’t mind being a presenter.”

He’s 31, as ginger as ever, and with naughty twinkling eyes. He doesn’t feel 31 (or particularly look it), but because of Potter, he has a weird relationship with age. Potter overtook his childhood so he has a strange relationship with age. When it ended, did he have an identity crisis? “Yes, I suppose so. And I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do anything like it again, or act again. I was quite keen on having my freedom back, I had my tonsils removed straight away”. Does he mean so he couldn’t talk and it was a celebration to have his voice removed? He replied “kind of, but I had massive tonsils, and I had to get them out. I felt like a man – it was good. You can’t speak for a few days and you shouldn’t eat ice cream, you should eat scratchy things.” Why? I thought the whole point of having your tonsils removed was so you could eat ice cream for a few days? “That’s completely wrong, you’ve got to encourage chewing and swallowing textured food. But I did have ice cream as well.” Ice cream has always been important to Rupert – he once wanted to be an ice cream man: “because I always loved the van, it was my first car and I learned to drive in it. It has pictures of 99s on it. Whenever I rode it out it was chaos with people wanting ice cream, but it was a great choice of transport. I still think it would be a nice job, but the ice cream men are very territorial – there’s a whole mafia, you get into trouble if you go onto someone else’s patch.” What’s your favourite ice cream? “I like ‘em all, my favourite’s a 99 and a Raspberry Ripple”. He makes me laugh a lot, his is cute and endearing but he’s also old-soul smart. In Servant his sister suffers the loss of her baby and replaces it with a Baby Reborn doll as part of grief therapy. The doll is made of silicone, hand-crafted, weighted and very realistic. Although his character Julian is brash, he’s the man you’d want in a crisis: “he’s always two steps ahead, and he’s always popping in for tequila. It felt very natural playing Lauren’s brother – I used to imagine we would be relatives in something.” Reborn dolls are real therapy dolls and used when women really want to conceive and they can’t or when they’ve suffered a cot-death. Rupert tells me “I have a Reborn doll, but it’s like a vampire. I’m not sure it’s quite the same thing, but the dolls are really realistic and when you hold them you can’t stop bouncing them.” Perhaps being Julian will finally make people realise he’s Rupert, not Ron, or even Ed Sheeran – who he’s always being mistaken for, including once by Leo Sayer at a car rally who kept asking him about his latest album: “I just played along, it was easier. Being Ron, though, it’s strange. It’s never quite died down. And now a whole new generation is finding Harry Potter. They have this kind of ownership of me – they see me and they think they know me. And, of course, Harry Potter still lives on because there’s a theatre play, and a ride at Universal Studios which I went on at the opening and it got stuck. It’s amazing what they’ve built: a Hogwarts castle, a train and King’s Cross, it takes you straight back. I am very proud to have been part of it, but it could be a bit claustrophobic, especially when we had finished the last one, nearly 10 years ago now. There wasn’t any real period of adjustment. Suddenly everything was over and it was overwhelming. It was the right time to finish – there are no more books anyway.”

Is he aware of the rumour that was circulated that there was going to be an original cast reforming on another Harry Potter? “I don’t think that would happen but I’d never say never.”

“I’ve got a whole new perspective on those years now. We were in this protected bubble but we didn’t really see it. We didn’t really feel that famous. I didn’t hate it but it had its own challenges. I did struggle, I think, because I had naturally merged into the character of Ron. I felt a very strong affiliation with him.” Does he feel that he merged into his character more than Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) or Emma Watson (Hermione Granger)? He thinks long and hard: “I don’t know.” Maybe it’s because he’s the better actor. “I’ll take that… but I still feel him. I feel protective over him. When I went to see the play (Harry Potter and The Cursed Child) and someone else was playing me I didn’t feel right. But on another level it was really fun – great to see him reimagined.” Is he still in touch with Emma and Daniel, who were his closest companions for a decade? “It’s been a while since I’ve seen either of them… I see Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy). I see them as family but more like distant cousins – it’s great to reunite when we do, but we’re not with each other all the time. It was an intense period.”

Coming out of a role that he played for so long, it must have been difficult to choose projects or characters that were different enough. “It’s never been a conscious thing to remove myself from that world, but I wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to be a wizard again. I enjoy stuff that’s grounded in reality.” Although, Servant is grounded in the creepiest reality. And his Reborn doll doesn’t seem very realistic because “it’s a vampire doll with little fangs. You still want to look after it and handle it carefully. Reborn dolls are a real form of therapy, although I can’t say that I would recommend it.” Why did he acquire his? Was it therapeutic? “No, because people know I collect weird things”. The presence of the babies on set made him actually quite broody: “as well as the dolls, on set we had triplets. They were always around. I love kids, I really do want children one day. Servant taps into this primal fear we have about protecting our young, and that’s how the show twists that part of the brain.” At the moment, though, he is happy to be a Cat Dad to a pinky-white sphynx cat called Milk, “it’s a myth they are hairless, they do have hair, but it feels like suede. And he loves skin-on-skin contact. He’s white but he’s got a pink hue and a bit of red fur on his nose.” He did a campaign for Milk a few years ago, so he obviously feels very close to him and that they have a likeness. He shows me his picture – he looks like a new-born foetus (if that’s possible). Milk doesn’t like to wear outfits but has a special heated bed that he likes, “he’s got beautiful blue eyes as well – owners do look like their pets, don’t they?”

As well as having a confused relationship with his age, he has an even more confused relationship with money. He made several million, some reports say £28 million  from the Harry Potter franchise but has no idea how much money he has: “it rings a bell, yes, I couldn’t actually tell you. Money is something that happens in the background. Milk has got very expensive tastes but I haven’t had an issue with money from such a young age, it makes it weird. I think I’m thrifty, I like a bargain – but maybe that’s just because I’m getting older. What age do I feel? I couldn’t put a number on it. Younger than 30 and also forever.” Is it true that Julian is your first grown-up character? “I think you always put a bit of yourself in the character, but Julian is removed from everything that I am. He is hugely confident and not hugely likeable.” I find the lack of confidence alarming. He’s shy and blushes easily but he has every reason to be confident – he is very funny and smart, and has something special as an actor. He has managed to be grounded and private, even as one of the most famous faces on earth. “I think I have a very normal existence, it’s a malleable level of fame and I enjoy it. The Harry Potter films had a profound effect and deep meaning to people, especially of my generation – they get tattoos of it. It’s a real marker of their nostalgia, I’ve learned to embrace it.” Some drinks and some chips arrive, but he’s far too polite to eat them, or maybe he’s just not hungry. His brother now rally drives and his father used to: “my dad used to sell Formula One memorabilia on QVC. I’ve always liked cars, but I haven’t got the ‘car gene’ as intensely. As well as the ice cream van, I’ve got an electric car. We all go through different phases, and this year, I started beekeeping.” He keeps the bees in his garden in North London: “I let the bees have the honey, they’re just amazing things to watch – inspiring and so busy. They’ve all got jobs, there’s an undertaker bee who carries out the dead bees, and the Queen is massive and has a green dot which they paint her with. You’re born a Queen, it’s a fascinating society – the hierarchy of the hive. I’ve got a lot of bee paraphernalia, a bee suit and smokers.

Does he mean he wears a black and yellow stripe suit to tend them?

“No!! a protective bee suit!

“When you open the hive you have to smoke them because it relaxes them, otherwise they can get quite aggressive. It’s a primal thing, they think it’s a forest fire so they stay in the hive. I’ve never been stung. Bees really don’t care about you, they’ve got so much to do: filling the hive with pollen. This year there were mites that hurt the hive, so we’re building them back up and next year we will be able to take some honey.”

Next up, he will go back to Philadelphia for another series of Servant, where he will collect more antiquities and books: “I’ve mainly got David Attenborough books, he’s got an elephant bird egg as well, and I’m sure he likes bees. I would love to meet him, I think we would have a lot to talk about.” I wonder where Attenborough would stand on the Reborn doll.

Servant is on Apple TV new episodes every Friday.

Richard E Grant (London Sunday Times Magazine, December 8, 2019)

Richard E Grant on the cover of The London Sunday Times
I met Richard E Grant earlier this year at the Four Seasons Hotel, Los Angeles, peak Awards season. He was on “the ride of his life.” Nominated in every possible award ceremony for his performance as the rakish Jack in Can You Ever Forgive Me? opposite Melissa McCarthy’s literary forger Lee Israel. A crookster, with impeccable charm based on a real-life character who died of AIDS in the 90s, it was a standout performance, but what stood out more was the way he rode those awards.  A veteran of over a hundred movies. He made his 61st year a spellbinding second act. He reinvented. This was his most talked about role since he debuted as the debauched Withnail in Withnail and I in 1987. And it’s not like he didn’t have a career. He’s worked constantly in wonderful movies like LA Stories, Gosford Park and who can forget his hair as Michael Heseltine opposite Meryl Streep’s The Iron Lady. Jack put him on the map he’d always been on, but not everyone had noticed. 
     I’ve known Richard E for years. I’m always enthralled by his diaries which are luxuriantly observed and sparkle with sharp, diamond wit. He deals with the minutiae of life like no other. I also loved his autobiographical film about his unusual childhood in Swaziland, Wah Wah (2005).
     More importantly he was the only human who could touch my then cat Shiksa without blood being drawn. We bonded over our mutual obsession with Barbra Streisand.  To put it in perspective, he would ask me if he could listen to old interview tapes and this year, she got in touch with him via a Tweet that he posted around the time of his Oscar nomination. He tweeted a picture of a letter that he wrote her as a 14-year-old fan. ‘And look at you now’, she replied as if he were 21, not 61 but nonetheless, it made more than his day and he has since been invited into her inner circle.
     Has his life changed since the nominations? He’s working a lot, but he’s always worked a lot. He’s in the new Star Wars – The Rise of Skywalker but he’d already filmed that.  Now he gets the precious ‘Oscar nominated’ before his name which is a very elite and fancy club to be a member of, but for him the Oscars meant meeting Streisand at the Governors Ball which he attended with his daughter Olivia.
     “She grabbed Melissa McCarthy’s arm at the Governor’s Ball and said ‘That woman in the sparkly black beret is Barbra Streisand. And you know what this is going to mean to my father if he sees her.’ So, Melissa grabbed me and said, ‘You’re coming with me,’ and that was the first time that I had seen her since the Tweet.” And now he gets invited to be in the celebrity section when she played Hyde Park, where the other 65,000 who’d paid hundreds for a ticket, scrambled on the grass.
     “She sent me tickets to see her in Hyde Park and then she asked me if I was going to be in New York for Madison Square Gardens, so I said yes. I was filming in Philadelphia when I got an invitation to see a private screening at Donna Karan’s house in East Hampton where Barbra was the guest of honour. I thought how do I get to the Hamptons from Philadelphia? A bus? A train? A helicopter? I ended up in Ron Perlman’s helicopter and I was invited to stay in a guest cottage on his 90-acre estate. I literally ran from the restaurant I was having lunch with Sally Field in. The Hamptons is this surreal place. You already feel like you’re in a movie. The screening was outdoors. A big screen at the other end of the pool with big sofas and I got to sit next to James Brolin and Barbara Streisand and then I sat speaking to her face to face until 1am. I couldn’t believe it and I’ll never forget it as long as I breathe. Everything else pales in comparison…”
     The Awards ride started at Telluride Film festival in September 2018. “I kept meeting actors who said ‘you’ll be on the campaign trail for 5 months’ and I was shocked. I can’t not work for 5 months. I have to earn a living. I would say what, have you seen this in a crystal ball? And they would say ‘no, but that’s how it is.’ So much smoke gets blown up people’s fundament in this profession, you’re in one day and out the next, but it all just snowballed and suddenly everybody that I newly wanted to meet or had wanted to meet for a lifetime was in one room. The Governor’s ball – the Vanity Fair party. A second act – it’s more like planet movie star and you’re Cinderella about to turn into a pumpkin.”
    The pumpkin never happened. “Tom Hanks said to me it doesn’t matter whether you win or not because for evermore you will be Academy Award Nominee. That moniker goes with you for the rest of your life.” And of course, no one remembers who won but we all remember Richard E Grant’s hell of a ride.
     At the time, he’d already worked on Star Wars – The Rise of Skywalker but he wasn’t allowed to talk about it, not even to his family. Not even the name of his character which is Pryde, an evil General. And even now, weeks before the film’s release, he has not seen it. Did he enjoy the experience?
     “Star Wars is like a marmite factor. If I say to people, I’ve been doing it, sometimes they proudly tell you ‘I’ve never seen a Star Wars movie and I’m never going to see one’ and some people love it and are obsessive and have seen everything. I saw the first one when I was 20 in 1977.
     Two months before I started doing this, I got sent a scene to self-tape with top secret written across it. Your name is written across the pages so you can’t reproduce it and you have to delete it once you’ve learnt it and self-taped. I knew immediately it was generic. A 1940’s B Movie interrogation scene. I taped it, sent it off and didn’t think about it and then I got a call saying you’re still in the running and I had no memory of ever doing it but my agent said ‘the producer wants to meet you at Pinewood. They’re sending a car for you’ and that never happens. They took me to the Carrie Fisher building which was weird in itself as I knew Carrie. I met her back in 1990 when I was doing LA story (where he also formed a lifelong friendship with Steve Martin). I was ushered upstairs and passed on to various people and then I met JJ Abrams (writer/director) in his vast office which is like a Star Wars memorabilia museum. I’d met him once before when I was 24 and he’d just made Regarding Henry with Anette Bening and Harrison Ford about a man who has an accident and has to rehabilitate his whole life. What I remember about Abrams was he was a man who spoke incredibly fast who seemed so self-possessed and I’d written in my diaries that he said ‘I’ll work with you one day’ and almost 40 years had gone by since then.
     I walked into his office and Daisy Ridley was there. JJ Abrams speaks bullet speed like a Scorsese and he’s asking me if I’m going to do it or not and I said I haven’t read a script and he said ‘nobody gets a script’ and then he starts telling me ‘you’re going to play this guy’ but at such speed it was surreal and somehow he segued into ‘you’re a Streisand fan.’ Daisy Ridley had done a duet with Streisand for Streisand’s album (Movie Partners on Broadway – 2016) so suddenly we’re just talking about Streisand for an hour and a half. I don’t remember him telling me the name of the character or anything. He just gave me a big hug and said, ‘so you’re going to do it?’ and I said of course I’m going to do it whatever it is. And then I was told I couldn’t tell anybody anything. 
     They had a dinner for the cast where I was told ‘You’re playing Pryde and Daisy Ridley said, ‘It’s a good part.’ The secrecy continues when you start working. There are bodyguards and you have to hand over your mobile phone.  Apparently, you can read the script on an iPad that they give you, but you can’t photograph it or take notes and you’re just given the pages of the daily work.
    “They are printed on crimson paper so you can’t photograph them. You’re not allowed to take them away, so you’re handed them on a sealed plastic folder where it says in bold letters that if you do not return these at the end of the shooting day… You’re even given a cloak with a hood on it that you have to wear if you move from your trailer into the studio because various news organisations have got drones flying over the studio.
    When you walk onto the set there are various security people with Security written all over them. You’re allowed to use your phone for calls and texts but if you lift it as if to take a photograph, a hand will appear.”
     As a person who likes to diarise everything that happens to him, how did he take notes or pictures and aide memoires?
     “You couldn’t on this, but I don’t normally. I could sit and text or write. At that cast dinner, what struck me was not a single person took a photo of anybody else…. I can’t remember a dinner with actors or performers where everybody wasn’t instagramming everything. I’m now allowed to say that I’m an evil General. JJ Abrams described what I do as the normalcy of evil, so the most heinous things are completely normal to this person and that’s as much as I’m allowed to say. 
     JJ Abrams is someone whose brain works very fast and feels like you have to run and leapfrog to catch up with him. He’s always pushing the boundaries of what you do and he speaks to extras as if they leading actors which is a very disarming and delightful thing. But one thing I love about this movie… is that you walk into this set that is a huge spaceship that you have seen your whole life. They open those huge octagonal doors. In the movie they seem like hydraulic doors that have no sound. They just open as you walk towards them. I thought they must have some fancy system of how they work them, and I look around the corner and there’s a middle-aged English crew member standing with ropes and literally pulling the thing with weights. It was so endearing. Walking backwards and forwards down a corridor with troopers all helmeted up and these doors opening and closing. I felt like a kid again.”
    Earlier this year he said, “I’m a 61-year-old Awards virgin.” He’s now 62 and an Awards veteran. He’s pretty astonishing at playing characters of dubious sexual orientation and next up he plays a retired drag queen who becomes the mentor to sixteen-year-old Jamie. It’s based on a true story and hit West End show Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
     “I sing and dance in vertiginous heels. It was the most frightening job that I’ve ever taken on because of the singing and dancing and also playing a drag artist. All in a proper Sheffield accent. But it’s a very good thing when you’re of my vintage to have that sort of voltage.”
    Both Withnail and Jack were louche and addicted to alcohol which is bizarre because Grant himself has an enzyme problem which means he can’t drink. His father was a demented alcoholic. Maybe that put him off also. 
     “Technically I should be an alcoholic and for years I thought it was a psychosomatic thing not being able to drink alcohol, but I was tested and they said the missing enzyme means I can’t digest alcohol.”
     Grant also doesn’t eat cheese or chocolate because he hates them. If he had to be a dish it would be Christmas pudding. He eats them quite a lot because he tells me they get drastically reduced in January and they keep a long time but mainly because they’re so “rich”. He luxuriates as he says the word “and you cut the sweetness with lemon sorbet”.
    He cooked dinner for Meryl Streep, crab linguine followed by pannetone bread and butter pudding. “She loves eating so it’s a pleasure to cook for her.”
    Did he not feel vulnerable cooking for Meryl? “Isn’t that the nature of talent?” 
     He manages a life without alcohol very well, but he says he’s not without addiction. His lifelong addiction has of course been Streisand.
    He fell out with his mother in his youth but had a reconciliation and she tells him that she’s proud of him after all these awards. “And that has been surprising and gratifying.”
     She asked him to forgive her and he did after a year or so of therapy. He gallantly goes off to get me a coffee even though coffee and tea are repulsive to him. “Hate the taste. The taste of it is pants. Likewise, chocolate, likewise cheese.”
    I tell him that’s maybe why his skin is so fresh and radiant after hours and hours of long-haul flights. He says it’s DNA.
     He took the character of Jack Hock from the essence of Chariots of Fire actor Ian Charleston who died of AIDS in 1990. “Ian had this amazing little boy lost quality and charm in tandem with a scabrous wit and enormous appetite for life. More than anybody I’ve met, and I thought he was the essence of what Jack Hock was.”
     He recently saw that, American actor Darren Chriss, who won the Emmy and the Globe for playing the leading role in The Assassination of Gianni Versace announced that he wasn’t going to play another gay character because he felt he was taking parts away from gay actors.  “And I’ve always had that concern. The Transgender movement and the Me Too movement means how can you justify heterosexual actors playing gay characters? We are in a historical moment. If you want someone to play a disabled role that should be a disabled actor.”
   I thought the easiest way to an Oscar was playing disabled. Just look at Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything.
     “Yes, I know but I understand why and how it’s come about.”  It seems a long time since his friend Rupert Everett complained that he wished he’d never come out because now he only got gay best friend roles. These days there are so much more scope for the non-specifically gay actor. I n the way that Andrew Scott can get away with playing heterosexual very endearingly.
    “And what’s extraordinary about Timothy Chalemet is that he has such an androgynous quality. Of all the actors out there, he is the most gender fluid of them all.”
     Grant has never been gender fluid, but he’s quite often turned in his best, most nuanced performances when sexuality was never even involved in the part.
     Has he witnessed any of the horrors where women were abused or taken advantage of by male producers or actors?  “I haven’t been involved in one of those projects where there was misogyny at large. Logan (which starred Hugh Jackman and was an X Men spin off) was particularly blokey.  Guys with huge arms. Star Wars is not blokey but it’s not misogyny.” He also starred with Jude Law in Dom Hemingway, which has been loosely described a bromance movie.
I asked a transgender friend what they thought of Grant playing a drag queen and they didn’t hae a problem with that. He’s playing a drag queen,, not a transgender. And his role is as a drag queen mentor. It’s not like he’s got any gay sex scenes. 
    When he was growing up, he wore a big eyelash inspired by Clockwork Orange when he went to see the movie. His father was drunk and threatened to kill him. He shot him but missed.
    “He was so angry because I got back from a movie wearing make-up, but he was also infuriated that I’d emptied a crate of scotch down the sink. If I hadn’t done that, the Clockwork Orange eyelash worn on the lower lid would not have been a catalyst.”
    At his father’s funeral a priest jumped into his grave to raise him from the dead. “I put that in Wah Wah the movie but at preview screenings people said it was too extreme, so we cut it. He died 38 years ago at 53, of alcoholism and a devoted love of my mother. That was the tragedy of his life. He drank to numb the pain.”
     His mother left him for someone she fell in love with then married someone else and they have been together 40 plus years. His father Henrik was the head of education for the British government administration in the protection of Swaziland. Famous scene in Wah Wah is when Grant was a boy about 10. He was sitting in the back seat of the car and had to watch his mother have sex with his father’s best friend. This led to their divorce and his father’s alcoholism and a fractured relationship with his mother.
     From an early age Grant kept a diary for the same reason he’s kept a diary throughout all the Awards seasons. “You establish a reality and a way to process – which seems too fancy a word but to understand what’s going on.”
     Because of the deception and adultery of his childhood “secrets to me are kind of toxic. They cripple families. If you have secrets, you have to deal with an awful amount of defence. If you choose not to keep them, you have to evolve and be the stronger for it. It’s a contradiction. People think keeping a secret will make you stronger but it’s the opposite.”
    Grant has been married to voice coach Joan Washington since 1986. They live in Richmond and he seems particularly devoted to his daughter Olivia.
    He’s still friendly with Lena Dunham. He was in her cult series Girls.
    “Lena had seen me in Spiceworld The Movie which completely exonerated all the flak I got at the time for being in that movie. Olivia was 8 years old and a Spice Girls fan and that’s why I was in it, but all the grandees of my profession asked how could you be in Spice World? But the bonus of that is I got cast in Girls and I got tickets to Adele at the 02 because she knew me from Spiceworld. Adele and I share the same birthday but not the same bank balance.”
    He got to be in four episodes of Girls, one of which he was in rehab. So often in artistic rehab but in reality, never even a drink or a drug. Does he feel that everyone is less pigeonholed as a result of Me Too and as a result of diversity, or is that just a new box. Have people become less judgmental?
     “We’re always judging. My role model for inspiration when I was a teenager was Donald Sutherland. He had a very long face and didn’t look conventionally good looking.”
    I was recently at a Big Cat Sanctuary where one of the lions had a really long face and a high forehead. I took a picture of him and told Grant I would name the lion Richard because it looked like him. He was pleased.
Richard E Grant and Chrissy Iley
Richard E Grant and Chrissy Iley

Elisabeth Moss (London Sunday Times Magazine, September 1, 2019)

Elisabeth Moss and Chrissy Iley
Elisabeth Moss and Chrissy Iley

I’m waiting for Elisabeth Moss in the bar of the Four Seasons hotel Beverley Hills. I’ve actually waited a long time to meet her and suddenly I wonder is she the person I hope she will be? The intelligent, sensitive, feminist who wove her way all the epic television series -her character Peggy in Mad Men starts off as a secretary and ends up a boss, through to Handmaid’s Tale, the Margaret Attwood vision of a dystopian future where women are slaves and wombs for hire. And she is the subversive insider.

The series hits all of the feminist marks. Browbeaten women will overcome, so on trend that Kylie Kardashian threw a Handmaid’s Tale themed party for her friend where all the women wore the red capes and white bonnets.

Before Handmaid’s, Moss was in the other great American series, The West Wing. There’s got to be something right about a woman who chooses what are largely considered the top 3 series of television’s golden age.

She has won the Emmy, the Globe and the Critics Choice Award for The Handmaid’s Tale, the SAG Award for Mad Men, the Globe and Critics Choice for Top of the Lake and the Producers Guild of America award for the Handmaid’s Tale.

When she plays Offred in Handmaid’s she is mesmerising. She fills the screen with an expression and inhabits the character. Her acting is considered and intelligent. She makes something unbelievable totally believable. Even when she is not saying anything onscreen, she is emotionally porous. You feel it all with her.

I’m at a corner table and Moss arrives –  a white T shirt, cut off denim shorts, a reversible bomber jacket with palm tree motif. She says she couldn’t decide what to wear as she’s in vacay mode. Her hair is blonder and thicker than you’d expect and her eyes have some crazy powerful inner sparkle.

We talk about how it’s not easy to find one outfit for hanging out by the pool, doing interviews and going to a fitting for an awards ceremony all in one day (It was the MTV Award for Handmaid’s Tale, which she won). Then she alights on my cat diary. I’d been sitting transferring events from my hardbacked diary into my phone. She picks it up, exploring each hand painted cat. It turns out she’s a cat woman. Or maybe THE cat woman. When she shows me her ginger girls Lucy, bright red, named after Lucille Ball and Ethel, pale blonde ginger, we coo and then she shows me the picture that would break the internet. Ethel wearing a Handmaid’s tale outfit, the red cape, the bonnet, designed by the Handmaid’s costumer designer Anne Crabtree. This revelation puts me in a kind of trance of admiration and ecstasy. How can I get one for my Lola?

This works on so many levels. A cat with claws being forced into the ultimate submissive outfit. Feisty and volatile, wearing a bonnet.  The paradox speaks to us all. And with this I realise Moss is everything I hope she’d be.

“Obviously I wouldn’t be a cat lady if I didn’t have pictures. My cat sitter just sent me a couple of videos.” We look at the pale ginger little tiny faced girl and super confident red ginger Lucy. “They’re my babies. I love them.”

She’s just coming up in The Kitchen – set in 70’s New York in Hell’s Kitchen when 3 mob husbands go to jail, their 3 wives take over.  She co-stars with Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish and it’s written and directed by Andrea Berloff, the Straight Outta Compton writer. It’s thrilling with a killer soundtrack. Moss is a person who chooses her projects cleverly.

Her character Clare has the most interesting arc. She starts off as the woman who always gets beaten up and later channels that into becoming a killer. Once again, there’s that theme of victim to self-empowerment that we all love to watch.

“I’ve never played an assassin or a hit woman, so it was definitely new and interesting. I thought it was a very compelling storyline. The idea of this woman who was so abused and such a “victim” and so interesting to try to understand her instinct of taking her own life back in an extreme way and thinking I’m actually going to own this.”

She had movie assassin training by actor Domhall Gleason with whom her character falls in love. “This isn’t a crazy character arc of all of a sudden she’s a hit woman. Even when she’s abused, she’s not meek. Maybe because of the violence she’s received, she can accept acting violent towards someone else.  Of course, she’s had a lot of emotional pain and we learn that she lost a baby when she was abused.”

Her characters are always losing babies or giving them up – Peggy, June/Offred, Robin in Top of the Lake and now Clare.

“Aren’t they? It’s a theme and so weird. Since I was 19 when one of the first films I did, the Virgin, a tiny independent film in which I play a woman who is raped while she’s unconscious, gets pregnant and thinks it’s the second coming. And Peggy in Mad Men of course gave her baby away. June lost two of them. It’s really weird. I don’t know what it is.”

Once could say there’s no such thing as coincidence. Is she really saying I keep losing these movie babies because I have to have a real one?

“No, I don’t think so. I think it’s more that I seem to be drawn to a character that has conflict and it’s the ultimate conflict for a woman. You bond with your child, it presents great conflict and drama, the idea of losing that child. I don’t think it’s a conscious thing but it’s a theme I’ve been aware of for a while. I always try my hardest to keep hold of those babies.” She shakes her head.

She’s ordered Greek yoghurt and honey. It looks good. She invites me to taste it even though I’m wearing bright red gooey lipstick which will make the yoghurt pink. She doesn’t care.

Does she have a really close bond with her mother? “Yes, pretty much so. Maybe it’s manifesting that. We are very close and not in a ‘best friends’ kind of way. You know how some people say I’m best friends with my mom. No, that’s not us. She’s still my mom and I’m her daughter. We’re very, very close and she’s been incredible.

If I ever have a baby though, I’m going to hold onto that thing for dear f***ing life. I’ll have it chained to me. It’ll be a 50 year old kid and I’ll be ‘no, you’re staying with me.’”

Don’t you think the child might rebel? “Probably but I don’t care. I know what happens when you let them out of your sight.”

Did her mother ever let her out of her sight? “Yes, she was great. I moved to New York when I was 19 which now as I’m 36 seems so young, but at 19 you don’t think you’re young at all. I look back and think my God, she let me go to New York at 19. I suppose I was always considered a mature person. You sometimes need somebody to believe in you and not doubt you. A lot of people don’t have that kind of support.”

She started her acting career at seventeen on the West Wing where she played Zoe (President Bartlett’s/Martin Sheen’s daughter). I’ve never met a person who didn’t love The West Wing. Or Mad Men. Or Handmaid’s Tale. How did she pick these compelling women in these pioneering series?

“My guiding principal for picking anything is the writing, whether it’s a film, television or play it’s always the writing. If it’s not well written there’s nothing you can do, no matter how good the director is or the actor is. So that’s always been the biggest guiding principle and this coincided with what is now called the golden age of television. No one can plan something. I was seventeen, I got cast in the West Wing. That and The Sopranos were one of the shows that started the golden age. And then I got Mad Men.”

It’s hard to imagine that former age where it was all about the movies or all about the stage and television actors were dismissed. Now anyone can do anything but mostly it’s the TV actors who rule.

“I did a play the Heidi Chronicles, written by Wendy Wasserstein in the eighties and there’s a line in the play that comes from a television actor. It goes Meryl Streep would never do television.  And one of the biggest posters on Sunset Boulevard is for Meryl in Big Little Lies, along with some of the other biggest movie stars (Kidman, Kravitz, Witherspoon). So that’s the end of that. The line that used to exist between film and television. I’ve lived through it. It was a gradual fading but there’s no line anymore. It’s done. And that’s a wonderful thing because now there’s so many great opportunities in all fields.”

Does she feel that woman are more powerful in the industry than they were 10/20/30 years ago? In the years of the kitchen where they turned from wives to mob leaders.

“Absolutely, but that’s not to say they are equal yet. I was reading some numbers on Instagram on the percentage of women who are behind the camera and it’s still really low but it’s not equal yet. But it’s a hundred times better.”

As well as acting the lead role in Handmaid’s, she also produces the show, something she takes very seriously –  it’s all-encompassing. Checking casts, checking scripts, checking edits. It’s a role which doesn’t stop when the series does because there’s pre and post production. She’s also involved in the hiring process.

“There are women directors but they need to be hired. When we start looking at directors for Handmaid’s tale which we do at the beginning of each season, we have this incredible grid that’s sent to us. It’s mostly women because we try to hire mostly female directors. There are so many out there that are talented and we don’t have space for them all. It’s the same with cinematographers. They are out there. I think there’s an awakening and a realisation of the inequality and a necessity rising in people for people to fix that which is good.”

Big Little Lies and Handmaids have been pioneers in this respect.

“We have a 50% female hire this year. Over 50% of female directors. We have a male DP and a female DP.”

At this point, a tall tanned blonde arrives and hugs her. It turns out she’s a rep for Dior and she’s going to Paris with her mother for a Dior couture show. “What a dream come true to take my mother to the Dior couture show in Paris. That’s definitely like a wow, I never thought I’d get to do that.”

Her black canvas bag is this season’s Dior. “They gave me the bag. When I go to shops it’s much less expensive places. I’m a huge Chicago Cubs fan, 4th generation. I was looking at Cubs outfits for cats the other day.”

She grew up in Los Angeles.  Her mother Linda is a harmonica player, maybe even THE harmonica player who has played with blues superstars like BB King. “She’s really good. She started when she was 15 in Chicago.”

Her father Ron manages musicians. She has one brother. As a child she wanted to be a dancer. As a young teen, she went to New York to study ballet at the School of American Ballet. She home schooled and graduated aged 16. Always wise for her years, she realised that by now her dancing career would be over. As it stands an actress and producer she is one of the queens of the golden age of television.

Her parents are both Scientologists. I’m not sure how serious she is about that religion. She drinks Moscow Mules and Rose wine, both of which are frowned upon by Scientology.

Her role in Handmaid’s Tale has often been described as being part of a scary cult and she’s often asked the questions of how this relates to being part of the scary cult of Scientology and her Scientology beliefs.   She thinks it directly relates. “Religious freedom and tolerance and understanding the truth and equal rights for every race, religion and creed are extremely important to me.”

She has a way of saying things simply that are profound and so to the point they feel powerful and heartfelt.”

Her upbringing wasn’t in any way starry or privileged or deprived or oppressed, yet her roles have spoken more about feminism than any current pundit.

“I think there’s something about my generation where feminism woke back up. When I was a teenager and in my early twenties there was no concept that something like Roe vs Wade could be reversed. I didn’t even know you could do that. I didn’t even know they could take that away. So, there’s something about the work that I do and gravitate towards that’s important to me and important to my generation and it’s coincided into this perfect storm.”

We foray into worldwide abortion rights being reduced, how women have gained a little power in one direction and then it’s grabbed away. She nods. “It’s weird, right.”

I wonder how much of The Kitchen is based on reality. “It’s based on a comic book, but I don’t know how much the comic book was based on reality. I know there was an Irish Mob in Hell’s Kitchen and an Italian Mob and they were both extremely violent. But the three women, I don’t think so. For me this story wasn’t just about three women who become best friends and everything ends happily ever after. They’re on top of the world of crime. They had conflicts. Women don’t always get along. It doesn’t end happily for everyone. They become more powerful but there are challenges that come with power. They are three very different women from completely different backgrounds, linked only because their partners are in the mob and led by a necessity to make money and take care of their children. That doesn’t mean everything’s going to be perfect and it doesn’t mean there won’t be a reckoning.”

Although her character Clare is tinged with tragedy, she is the one that gets the hot guy who understands her – Domhall Gleason.

“He’s a fantastic actor who I have admired for a long time. We got the most incredible cast of supporting actors (including Margo Martindale (Sneaky Pete) and superstar rapper turned actor Common).

Being a feminist does not mean that all women love women. It means there’s conflict and competition. That’s why All About Eve is one of the most enduring movies of all time. It was made into a movie in 1950 and it starred Bette Davis, then in her forties. A woman in a lead role over forty is very rare today today.

Moss corrects, “I don’t know. We’ve got Meryl, Diane Keaton, Ellen Burstyn. All About Eve was great writing, great performance.  We don’t remember all the shitty movies they made at that time.”

Does she think more interesting female roles are written now or is it just her who happens to get them all?

“I do think they are being written. I think the industry has realised that women go and see things and we are getting more and more opportunities to put women at the forefront. We are a huge audience and we want to see ourselves represented.”

That’s why it works to have three women stars of The Kitchen. We can find ourselves in one of them for sure. What does she watch?

“I watch everything. I’m always looking for new things. I just watched Fleabag and Phoebe Waller Bridge is genius. She’s literally the second coming. I’ve also enjoyed After Life with Ricky Gervais, The Office was one of my favourite shows. Fleabag’s probably the most significant one.”

She lives in New York – Upper East Side. Came back to LA briefly to film Mad Men. As well as losing babies in every role she does, she seems to drink whisky.”

“I think it’s easy to recognise whisky as alcohol in TV and film. A Moscow Mule is less obvious.” We wonder if she should order Moscow Mules now, but she decides that it might make her fall asleep during her fitting. She’s a little bit on East Coast jetlag.

“I used to live in the East Village for about 13 years. Then I moved because I got a little bit older and I thought it’s too noisy and there are too many bars. I need to go uptown with children and dogs.”

Did she think she wanted children and dogs? “No.” At this time she did get married and unmarried to Saturday Night Live actor/comedian Fred Armison. They met in October 2008, married in October 2009 and in September 2010 filed for divorce.

Did it feel that it all happened in five minutes?

“Probably, but it does seem a long time ago.” Her answers are small but heartfelt. There’s no defensiveness. There’s no weird atmosphere. I’d read that she was so busy acting and producing, she didn’t have any time for dating and then she was dating but deciding not to name the person.

“Well that’s true but I now think who cares? His name is John. We’ve been together for over a year and he’s by the pool right now.  In a way you want to preserve your privacy but in another way I don’t care. I love him, I’m playing it by ear, he’s lovely and I’m happy.” And they have two ginger fur daughters together.  Does he at least have red hair?

“No, that would be amazing. But their actual daddy is a street cat in Brooklyn.”

There was a tabloid frenzy linking Moss to Tom Cruise. According to OK Magazine US edition, he wants to marry her and have babies.

“Not as far as I know. It would be awful for me and my boyfriend. I’m sure he’s perfectly nice but I’ve never met him.”

I wonder if the Tom Cruise rumour came about because they’re both Scientologists? “I have literally never met him.”

I’m glad.

So many women of all ages love her, in part because she’s been a vulnerable power taker, a transformer. Somehow that doesn’t fit with becoming a Tom Cruise girlfriend.

“I always try to make my characters end up being heroines and representing feminism. I always try and make them real, whether it’s representing a woman in the workplace or a mother. I never think that’s why I identify with them. I think they’re just like you and I – not special, not perfect. We are not birds that are caged and cannot fly. Nobody is 100% good all of the time. We don’t have special powers. We’re women and we’re human. But real women who are not perfect can find their strength, whether that’s getting out of a bad relationship, telling your boss you want a raise or marching on the capital in a red costume.”

In a way, the red capes are part of a new wave or superhero costumes. “Yes. When I put that on, I feel proud. It represents something important to me. I feel there’s a responsibility in that costume. It’s red. It represents blood, it represents fertility and it can also represent adultery. It’s evocative. There’s a good reason why Margaret Attwood made the Handmaid’s dress red. We feel something when we see that colour.”

She worries that her face is shining so she touches up with Charlotte Tilbury powder “the best,” and a slash of super red lip colour.

Attwood has written a new book so there will be another Handmaid series. “I hope so. I hope I’m involved. There’s a gap between the current Handmaid and the new book which means we can finish our story and do whatever we want with it and it won’t have an effect on the book that’s been written.”

At the end of series 2 there was a decision where June/Offred could escape but she went back to fight from the inside.  “There was no way she was gonna leave her daughter there and she has to be on the inside.”

Does she watch on a weekly basis? “As a producer I want to air one a week. As a viewer I love bingeing.” Is this her foray into producing? “No, I produced a film called Queen of Earth with Alex Ross Perry. Producing Handmaid’s is a big job. We’re going over who we’re hiring for season 4 and I’ve got 20 hours of cuts I need to make on episode 11, 12 and 13. It’s a round the year job because I’ve got to be in pre and post production.”

Working and juggling so much may mean that her red cape does indeed have super-powers. “I love working, I love my job, I love what I do. I don’t consider it a job. It’s my vocation. I feel very grateful that I have the opportunity to do it. Not a lot of people get the opportunity to do what they love and make a living.

Up next, she’s in a remake of the horror film The Invisible Man. “It’s the lead but it’s not what you think. It’s a story of female empowerment, not an invisible woman but a woman going from victimised position to a powerful one. You can spend years on television doing that (like Peggy). I’m born and bred in television and I love the longform exploration. I don’t know if the tighter turnaround is easier or more difficult. It’s just you know exactly where you’re going to end up and it’s nice to be able to plot that – whole arc from beginning to end. In a series you don’t know that.”

We look again at Ethel in her outfit looking vulnerable and fierce. “I’m interested in exploring vulnerability and the duality in characters. Most people have both.”

She says this looking vulnerable and fierce and that’s exactly why so many people relate to Moss.

HER SMELL is out in the UK on Sept 9.and The Kitchen is out Sept 20


Ben Whishaw (London Sunday Times Magazine, March 24, 2019)

Ben Whishaw and Chrissy Iley
Ben Whishaw and Chrissy Iley

Ben Whishaw is wearing a navy shirt, dark wool trousers and a fluffy knitted hat. It’s a strange combination of quirkiness and elegance – he’s a one off. Lush, dark curls. He’s all cheekbones and large eyes. The eyes look so intense. They could be the eyes of a very intelligent animal, but perhaps that’s just because you can imagine him so easily as Paddington Bear – he is the voice of Paddington.
He’s also brought a new quirkiness to the quiet genius that is Q in the Bond movies and he’s just fresh from picking up the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award for his portrayal of Norman Scott opposite Hugh Grant’s Jeremy Thorpe in A Very English Scandal. He was achingly good. Everyone thinks so.
Did he expect this double win? “No idea. You never know how these things are going to work out but it was very nice.”
Is it career changing to have a Golden Globe winning prefix to his name? “I don’t know if it changes anything but it feels nice. They make you feel great being the winner,” he smiles and sips on herbal tea.
We are in a photographic studio in East London where I’ve just seen him drape himself so elegantly and effortlessly over an old-fashioned gymnasium horse and a British flag.
Does he think that winning awards in Hollywood means he will be spending more time there? “I don’t feel it’s my world out there. I just sort of dropped in and it was a lovely thing. I would like to drop in more often. Maybe it opens doors. I guess we’ll see. I haven’t directly communicated with Norman Scott but I gather he was happy and he asked for a signed photo of me holding the award.”
He speaks of Scott affectionately. In the mini series which sees Scott involved with horses and dogs, relating to them perhaps more easily than people? “He definitely feels a kinship with animals. A security that maybe he didn’t have with people.”
He is in London rehearsing a play called Norma Jean Baker of Troy. It will open in New York early April. The director (Katie Mitchell) doesn’t fly so the rehearsals are all in London. He plays a man who likes to dress up as Marilyn and the opera singer Renee Fleming is his co-star. I find it quite odd that Mitchell won’t be coming to the first night of her own play. Whishaw accepts this and says, “She doesn’t have enough time in her schedules to take the boat. She goes to Europe a lot to work by train and Renee has crazy insane schedules to everything has been slotted about what Renee could do. Renee is very open and hardworking and really clever. It’s incredible she’s open to this weird and wonderful thing. We just got the costumes. I wear a dress that’s a replica of the one she wore in The Seven Year Itch – the white one where the wind comes up and they’ve given me bum, hips and breasts although I think they’re not as big as Marilyn’s they made it proportionate to my body. It’s a strange thing, I’m not playing Marilyn but a man who’s infatuated with her so much that he wants to dress up as her to be close to her and because he’s in mourning for the loss of her the play is set in the year she died. Apparently, there was a spate of copycat suicides that year.”
The play will open as the first play in a space called The Shed which is also an art gallery and music venue. It’s been written by the poet Anne Carson. Carson is a Canadian poet and professor of classics and has been described as the greatest poet since Robert Lowell.
He thinks nothing of one minute doing an independent play and then a blockbuster. He moves in and out of both extremes easily. He was last seen in the Disney epic Mary Poppins Returns. It’s what happens to the characters thirty years after the original movie. He played Mr Banks – the grown-up boy Michael, now the father of the family facing 1930s depression and the potential loss of his home after the actual loss of his wife. His children aren’t adjusting and the governess Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) has never been more needed.
“Mary Poppins was the first film I ever saw. My dad taped it off the telly and we had it on a Betamax tape. I watched it so many times the tape wore out.”
Is it possible to wear out a tape? Isn’t that a metaphor?
“It’s how I remember it.And now I play the grown-up boy who’s now the daddy of the family. His old nanny blows in because there’s been a lot of crisis in the family. Michael is struggling to cope and look after the children and run the household and pay for everything. That’s what motors the film. He’s about to lose the children’s home.”
I can see why they wanted him for that part. A man child, a 38- year old actor who can create the “perfect man with the struggle in his soul.”
“Well there’s nothing interesting about somebody who’s doing fine, is there?
Mary Poppins had a cousin called Topsy Turvy played by Meryl Streep. Did he get to hang out with Streep?
“No. I met her at the rehearsal and she was nice but I’m so completely left speechless when I’m in the same room as her.”
Ah yes, the introvert, extrovert. The actor who once told me he’s afraid of meeting people.
“Do you never feel that speechlessness come on you? Even though she seemed to be the nicest person, I was very timid and shy around her.”
Whishaw has an unusual but mesmerising charm. I wanted to give him my childhood Paddington Bear because it was special to me and his performance was special but my mother had thrown it away. He wasn’t disappointed by this, or at least he’s too charming to show it. He comes over quite other worldly, hyper sensitive but very soft and determined, full of contradictions like shy and actor.
“I haven’t got over my fear of meeting people. I love people but I’m just shy of meeting new people especially when they’re famous.”
Years have passed since Whishaw was fresh out of drama school and at 23 was acclaimed as one of the best ever Hamlets (the next Olivier) in the Trevor Nunn production. He played Hamlet as a teenager alienated from the world. Last year his portrayal of Norman Scott was arguably the best thing on TV. Clearly the judges at the Golden Globes agreed. He actually blushes when I mention this performance – so nuanced, so vulnerable, so creepy all at the same time.
“I’m pleased you found it all of those things. Did it make you laugh?”
Oh yes, and cry.
“He was a very sad man.” Scott loved his dogs. Whishaw loves cats. His father’s cat Bob died recently. He was only 6. He had to give his cats to his dad when he started working away from home a lot. They were a mother and daughter duo and the daughter Yana is now 18, the mother deceased.
“Yana got dragged under a car when she was 3 and her leg was ripped off. They had to stick it back on and ever since she looks fragile but she’s tough, almost indestructible.”
I wonder if he identifies with that. Looking fragile but actually quite strong.    He’s very excited to have the role that embodies the vulnerability and the feistiness of Marilyn Monroe. I see the qualities in him.
When he comes back from New York he will begin shooting the new Bond.  Of course, no one in a Bond movie can ever tell you in advance what it’s going to be like but I assume it’s a security issue.
“I think they’re probably trying to figure out what to do with the storyline. At least I know that y character is the same someone did tell me this time that there might be a scene with Q’s cats which you would be interested in.”
Have the cats been cast yet? “I don’t think so.” I immediately want to sort out an audition for my cat Roger (Moore). He would definitely have screen presence.
“And that would be a lovely connection named after a former Bond. Does he travel? Can he come to Pinewood? Can he cock an eyebrow?” Yes, he can. That’s why he’s called Roger Moore. “I’ll get onto Barbara Broccoli about it.”
Who is Mr Bond these days? “It’s still Daniel Craig, I think. They never tell you till the last minute.”
I tell him that I preferred Roger Moore’s Bond when they had film titles like Octopussy. The Craig Bond seems a little hard, a little rough diamond. His edges are the perfect contrast to Whishaw’s fluid Q.
He changes the subject back to Norma Jean. “Isn’t it good that I’m going to dress up as Norma Jean?” It is. I tell him I once went to an auction of Marilyn’s clothes and put in a bid for some pink marabou trimmed stilettoes but the winning bid exceeded mine by around £12,000.
“I would have loved to have had something of hers. She really was amazing. She had a lot going on. A lot of sadness on her plate, poor darling. To be a star in that star system and those men.”
If she had been born 50 years later, does he think she would have been part of the #metoo movement?
“I’m sure she would have. I’ve been listening to interviews with her. She doesn’t seem afraid of anything.”
Fearless and vulnerable. That’s another contradiction that could possibly describe both of them.
“Yes,” he says with a ‘cats got the cream’ expression. He loves contradiction. We talk about the contradiction in the song lyrics of Steven Sondheim.
He asks, “Do you know the song Losing My Mind (by Sondheim)?” He sings it. He can sing. All the great divas have sung it.
“I’ve just finished reading a book called Fragments. It’s bits of Marilyn’s diary, notes on hotel paper, poetry. She writes beautifully. Apparently, Arthur Miller was here with her when they were doing the film The Prince and the Showgirl and she opened his diary and read about how disappointed he was with her, how embarrassed he was being around his intellectual friends with her. Apparently, this was devastating to Marilyn.  All these men say how difficult she was. It makes you want to strangle them.”
Has he ever read anyone else’s diary? “No, I haven’t but she must have known what she was looking for to see what she feared. It’s like looking at someone’s phone and somehow, it’s easier to look in the phone or the diary than ask the person directly. Isn’t it the thing that you want to have it confirmed but it’s really self-destructive? But maybe you think I have the evidence that would release me from this thing but no, I’ve never checked anyone’s phone or diary. There’s something a bit desperate about that, isn’t there?”
Well, Whishaw is the master of sensitivity. He’d never want to be desperate. He’s just finished a film Little Joe, “about a genetically modified plant that takes over people’s brains.”
I wondered if he played the plant. He doesn’t. how does he choose his roles or do roles come to him if producer and directors think the part needs the Whishaw effect? – something simple made a little spooky, or something spooky made a little normal.
“Usually I want parts where the character is compelling to me but sometimes if I fall in love with the director and want to work with them so much, I’ll do it no matter what they ask. It was my love for the Austrian director Jessica Hausner that made me want to do this film. She did a film called Lourdes a few years ago about a woman with multiple sclerosis who is indeed cured when she goes to Lourdes. It’s about miracles and how they happen or did they? And with Little Joe you’re not actually sure if a disaster is going to happen, if the plant is manipulating people or people are just insane. It’s the same kind of question.
“I play a scientist who has created this plant – a very pretty plant actually.”
The thing about a Whishaw role I find, is it haunts you long after the movie has retired. The Lobster was one such movie. It was surreal and bizarre and black like fairy tale.
He liked doing the Lobster where he played Limping Man. it was a love story. His character was straight, or at least in a sexual way.
Whishaw has created an ever-widening niche for himself –

Roseanne Barr (London Sunday Times Magazine, March 10, 2019)

Chrissy Iley & Roseanne Barr
Chrissy Iley & Roseanne Barr
The story of Roseanne Barr is one of epic rise and epic fall and possible redemption. She is a provocateur, fierce, funny, an outsider. Her television sitcom Roseanne ran from 1988–1997. It was a staple of American culture, won Emmy’s and Globes. It was revived by ABC and in 2018 it was the most watched show in America. Last May, in the middle of the night – 2 am she Tweeted. This Tweet was deemed innapropriate by her bosses at ABC, who immediately fired her and cancelled the show and within 48 hours had forced her to give up all rights to the show which was based on her own life.
  The Tweet was ‘Muslim brotherhood and Planet of the Apes had a baby’ in reference to Valerie Jarrett, a former advisor in the Obama administration. At the time, the network said Barr’s tweet was “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.” The following month, the network decided to bring back the show but without Barr, and title it The Conners.
  Going forward The Tweet is now usually described as a racist Tweet. That was not its intention as Barr didn’t know that Jarrett was black and no one seemed to know that Barr was Jewish and the Tweet was really about Iran/Israel. Racism was never her intention. 
  Her friend of 20 years, Rabbi Shmuley Botech tried to help. They did a Podcast together. He says, “she said that she wanted to engage in penance. She made a mistake. She took full responsibility. She shouldn’t have written that Tweet but she was judged very harshly. Her whole life dismantled, so I reached out to her. 
  We studied the Torah together for the last 20 years. Jewish values state three things when you make an error. No. 1 own up to it, No.2 apologise unconditionally and no. 3 make restitution in some form of tangible action. We did the podcast and she said ‘I absolutely want to engage in penance. It breaks my heart that people think I’m a racist. I’ve African American children in my family. I’m humiliated.’ She was sobbing.
  Since the Tweet that changed her life, Barr went to her mother’s in Utah to have what she describes as “a nervous breakdown. seeing herself so vulnerable was shocking.
  We meet her in her office/studio in El Segundo. On the way there, the Uber driver tells me he is a fan and points out that Bill Maher is applauded when he makes racist Tweets. It seems unfair. Is comedy about cruelty? Barr tells me it wasn’t like that. 
  She is first and foremost a Jewish woman who has fought Anti-Semitism for most of her life. Growing up in the Mormon Salt Lake City was harsh. She has said in the past “You weren’t supposed to think there. First of all it was frowned upon to be a girl, and second of all to be a fat, dark-haired girl who had no waist, and third to be a loudmouthed, short, fat, dark girl.”
  Of course, these days she’s not fat, she has a waist, looks trim and has long blonde hair. She’s young looking for 66. Various surgeries have been well documented but it’s not about that. There’s something vibrant in her spirit. She tells me about the Tweet.
  “I was dreaming and I woke up and I thought this is the really great thing that I’ll Tweet. I was appalled I was not allowed to explain it.”
  The Tweet stems from the Obama regime, foreign policy on Iran and Israel. Her explanation in grander terms has included visits with Rabbi Botech to Israel, meeting politicians from the left and right and talks about anti-Semitism. 
  “I signed the rights for my whole life’s work away,” she says gravely. “I thought I had to do that. I thought this is what it’s going to take so I did it. Just the other day the Hollywood Reporter changed the Tweet again. They are on a tear against me and have been for a long time. They got my ex-husband (Tom Arnold) to review one of my shows.” Arnold is one of 3 ex-husbands. She’s friendly with the others but not him. “They’ve tried to silence me and humiliate me since I came to Hollywood.”
  Her two sons Buck and Jake work with her at her studio. Jake makes me a perfect cup of coffee. Roseanne has started smoking and he doesn’t like the smell even though he smokes. He has special smoking clothes. She’s not doing any booze or pills. Let her smoke.
  We circle back to the Uber driver and his Bill Maher point. “Bill Maher doesn’t get a quarter of the ratings I got and because he’s an arm of the Democrat party he gets away with it and he gave more than a million dollars to the Democrats. There is sexism but I’m not sure that men can get away with a lot anymore because everyone’s got their #metoo issues nailed, but now they just send in women to say the same shit men say and they think it’s feminism. It’s ain’t. It’s disgusting.”
  Rabbi Botech says, “We now live in the divided States of America. Roseanne was perceived to be a pro Trump person and that automatically means she has to be a racist. Her show was ethnically diverse and politically diverse. Half the people like Trump, half the people hate Trump and that’s real America. Other sitcoms they’re all liberal or they’re all Conservative. This show had different political strands and they still cancelled it. My opinion is ABC should have said ‘you’ve done something that seems very offensive. We’re going to dock your pay for a month and donate it to an African American educational charity. Which she did anyway. She’s always donated to charities. Instead they moved to destroy her. Her show, it bears her name, it’s based on her life.”
  It’s true. Roseanne loves Trump. Her politics though have always been provocative, standing up for the minorities, whoever they may be. In 2012 she formed the Peace and Freedom party. Before that she was Green and before that she hated George Bush.
  As I’m talking to Roseanne in a pink fluffy sweater, she’s not what I expected – harsh and combative. She’s hypnotic, yes, but loveable. She’s still reeling from signing away the rights of her life. 
  “My life, my kids, but they (the network) told me if I do one more thing they don’t like they’ll remove my reruns for ever. And I said could you define what the one more thing is and they won’t. it could be that I say the word shit. It could be whatever they want. It’s a total Stalinist censorship. I’m known for free speech and also bringing free speech into a family context with the conversations had on my show. They don’t want none of that no more. They only want pliable servants. I’m not that. I’m not a slave.”
  We discuss stage one, the aftershock. “I had a complete nervous breakdown.” She couldn’t get out of bed. “Right.” She couldn’t speak. “Right. I couldn’t think either. They gave me 48 hours to sign away the rights to my show or I’d be sued because I ruined the season. They cancelled the show before one sponsor pulled out which is unheard of, unprecedented. They wanted to get rid of me. My boyfriend (Johnny Argent has been her partner since 2003. They met through a writing competition she hosted on her site) said it’s because I was bad for the hate business. Because I brought people together under one roof who disagreed about the President, but they moved past it and still got along. One thing changed in that game – it’s the philosophy based on the hatred of an outsider. It’s called anti- Semitism but it’s also anti-intellectualism and anti-free speech.
  My show had the most progressive storylines ever on television. If you say one positive thing about President Trump, the new progressives will destroy the most progressive show on TV. I knew it was going to happen. They tried to kill me the first day I went back to work.”
  Literally or metaphorically? “Everything. Physically, mentally and spiritually, in every way. It was a mistake to go back there. I’ve made mistakes many times in my life.”
  Part of Barr’s love for Trump is because he supports Israel but she also thinks he’s a “genius”. Now she feels the most opinionated woman on TV is not entitled to some opinions.
  “Americans know next to nothing about the Iran deal and the Obama administration and what they did with the Iran deal to put Israel and the Jewish people in an existential crisis around the world. The government in Iran was like the movie Planet of the Apes. We’d already said that for weeks.” 
  It has been reported that someone called ABC which resulted in Barr’s removal. Barr alleges that it was in fact Michelle Obama who called the President of ABC who fired her. She said, ‘this Tweet is unforgiveable’. That’s what I was told and I tend to believe it because the woman who fired me is now working with the Obama’s at Netflix.
  They wanted to take a Jew down. They wanted to take down a Zionist because they think that Zionists are the problem with everything in the world and a lot of people in this country think like them that’s why I was flattered when Schmuley called and said, ‘let’s teach Torah’. I have a lot of Rabbi friends because one of my passions in life is to talk about the Torah. When I sent that Tweet, I had this feeling in my head that God gave me this idea.” 
  But it was in the middle of the night. “Yes, and I was also in an inebriated condition. I’d gone to bed at 11.00, sent the Tweet at 2.00, was on Ambien. It was a very stupid thing.”
  I took Ambien and it made me sleep eat. “It did me – 2 pounds of cheese every morning.”
  But it also made her sleep Tweet. “I wished I hadn’t done it and I don’t take Ambien no more. It made me think in an impaired way and I’d also had a couple of beers. I should have written it backwards. It came out dyslexic. It should have been ‘Valerie Jarrett’s ties to the Muslim brotherhood have now allowed Iran’s government to remain as in the movie Planet of the Apes’. That was the conversation. After a 30-year career of championing civil rights, it all ended. They hate powerful women and they hate powerful, deplorable women and I do consider myself deplorable. Deplorable is the greatest thing that Hillary ever called us because it empowered a revolution, we are deplorable to her kind. Of course, all working class people are deplorable to her because it was working class people that elected Trump.”
  According to Rabbi Botech, Barr is now in the second phase after the Tweet.
  “The first was extreme remorse and heartfelt apology. That podcast was listened to by hundreds of thousands of people, but regardless of the degree to which she apologised, people still didn’t forgive her, she started becoming more defiant. She said ‘Schmuley, I’ve apologised and it’s got me nowhere. People are not in the mood to forgive. My friends tell me you can’t apologise in this culture. It’s like confession.’”
  Can she forgive? “I’m not going to forgive.” Our mutual Rabbi friend might suggest that that’s hard to carry around. “It’s not hard to carry around it’s wonderful, it gives me great fuel. Schmuley and I disagree on that. If you forgive the unforgiveable, you’re not a moral person.”
  Reading the Torah is something Barr has done all her life. She and Botech met when he came on her talk show to promote his book Kosher Sex. She let him know that she wanted her daughters to marry Jews and he selected three Jewish boys for them to try out. “I found nice Jewish boys and we filmed it. It was like the Jewish Bachelor.”
  It didn’t work out for them.
  “They were nice guys but he didn’t go with the looks.”
  Her daughters are married now. One of them did end up with a Jewish guy. “The other two are Jewish now.” They converted? “No, they just by osmosis became Jews. When I first met Schmuley I thought he was very interesting. We did a debate on pornography with Larry Flint the three of us. We respect each other’s opinions and he’s one of the few men that listens to women.”
  Does her boyfriend listen to women? “He’s a good one. He’s a hippie. Vegetarian and all that. I am too mostly. He’s not crazy about me smoking,” she says, lighting up another but feeling somewhat self-conscious she opens the door and cool air wafts in.
  Her entire career has been built on provocation. In the early seventies she married Bill Pentland, a hotel clerk. They moved to Denver, lived in a trailer park and she had three kids. As a child she’d learnt that the only way to survive was to be fierce and funny. She started performing at local comedy clubs. Eventually she got her break on The Tonight Show where her humour offended the audience until they gasped with laughter.
  A few days after her divorce from Pentland in 1990, she married Tom Arnold, even took his name. she describes that period as the worst time of her life and “a horrible dysfunctional relationship.” They posed for Vanity Fair naked and mud wrestling. Perhaps a metaphor for that relationship.
  In 1995 she married Ben Thomas, had her youngest son Buck, divorced in 2002. 
  She is emphatic she has never been a racist, whatever she’s been.
  “Jew haters are calling Jews racist. Let’s be real. Does racist mean by silenced by the left? They want to throw it around so much. Of course, I’ve apologised because this was an insensitive comment, but really its damage was in the way it was perceived. I can’t be responsible for the way people perceive things. People have always done this to me. They don’t get me. I have a lot of fans. First of all, the only people who called me in Hollywood were black people. White people in Hollywood don’t know about racism. Let them say ‘Roseanne called black people monkeys’. Let them do it if that’s the spin they want. I had a nervous breakdown because of how I was mentally abused. It was really freaky. They lined up to abuse me and kick me in the teeth. They are not good people.”
  Another blow was when they decided to continue the series, calling it The Conners but without Roseanne. Roseanne had died of a drug overdose by using other people’s prescriptions to get drugs.
  Rabbi Botech says, “When The Conners came out, I was very upset about how they dealt with her death. A grim ending of a beloved character that has been a staple of the American culture for 20 years. It’s a blue-collar show. It’s an insult to the working class that they’re all trading prescription drugs.
  Barr continues, “They think because they killed me it’s OK for them to use me, use the memory of me. Still mention me. It’s still my show but they stole it. They are going to do it to other comics. I’m just the first.”
  Isn’t that the nature of the comic – to get a reaction? To make people laugh, you have to make people unsettled.
  “I don’t just like to make people laugh. I like to piss them off and make them think too. I like to provoke them. I’m a provocateur. I knew they were trying to censor comics ever since Obama signed the NDAA into law. I Tweeted the next day ‘he’s just killed comedy’. It’s like the PC police. A PC police state and they have no compunction about destroying innocent people every day. It’s about mind control. Everyone in America is under mind control from television except for my show, that’s why they got rid of it.”
  Does she think she’ll ever have another show? “No, I’m totally done. People have approached me. People say ‘go on this channel. They’re not about the ratings’ but I’m a champion of ratings.”
  Does she ever think she’ll be President Barr? “People are saying that too. Part of why I love Trump is that he took so many of my ideas from my 2012 campaign. I’m about to put out my speech to show it.”
  “He’s welcome to those ideas. Nobody owns good ideas. People are always stealing my ideas. Everything on television is some kind of theft from me. They don’t credit particularly women my age here. You know, if you’re not fuckable it’s no good. Not that I ever was. I’m one of the few women who’s made it on looks and talent in Hollywood.”
  “I tried to sleep my way to the top but there were no takers. I would have but that wasn’t open to me.”
  No one ever #metoo’d her. “My friend Mike Tyson the boxer called it #youtoo. It’s a witch hunt.”
  How does she feel about women who claim to be abused 20 years previously but didn’t say anything about it at the time?
  “That’s because they’re ho’s. if you didn’t say no and just stayed there to get along, you’re a ho. Men are ho’s too. There’s a total ho mentality. What am I going to get for trading sexual favours? Not that I’ve got anything against ho’s. Not real ho’s.”
  While she was having her nervous breakdown, Rabbi Botech called her. “He said, ‘we can’t let them destroy you because you’re the strongest voice for American Jews in Israel. It woke me up. I had my fight back. I just went with him to Israel. In Israel they can talk, talk out differences, talk to each other. I was invited to speak by the left-wing Labour party. No one is all good or all bad. I don’t like what the Obama administration did to Israel and Jews worldwide.”
  Did her love or Torah come from the idea that Torah was for the boys, not for the girls? Did she ever have a Yentl thing going on? 
  “Yeah, totally Yentl. I got that movie although I like calling it Lentil.” I really want to sing Papa Can You Hear Me but I’m bad at singing so I restrain myself. “That’s another joy of my life – singing. I’m doing it more and I’m loving it.”
  When I tell her I was recently thrown out of a restaurant for bad singing, she says, “singing badly is still hilarious.” She gives me her DVD Rockin’ With Roseanne (fun filled kid tunes with loads of singing and dancing). 
  Becoming a grandmother changed her, softened her. She loves singing. She loves kids. She loves the Torah. She loves growing things in her home in Hawaii, cooking soups and selling them in the shop (carrot and ginger is a favourite). “My life is so peaceful. I’m not angry anymore. I use my anger to write. It’s a good battery but I don’t live it and that’s a good switch. I don’t let it bleed into my real life.”
  Do blondes have more fun? “I love my blonde hair. I’m going to let it grow to my waist. I’m never cutting it again. It’s a whole new attitude. My friend said to me once when I was unhappily married…” To which husband? “oh, to all of them eventually. My friend said ‘time to dump the ape and go blonde’. We always called men apes in Utah. I’m in touch with the ex-husbands, all but one. I don’t speak to Tom Arnold.”
  She has children with these ex-husbands and now grandchildren. Often the grandchild/grandparent relationship is stronger. “Yes, we understand each other because we have a common enemy. I really do love children and young people. It opens up a whole new wrinkle in your brain and you have a longer view of the world. And they’re what you leave behind.”
  Does she ever think about that – dying? “No – I won’t be there. It don’t matter.”
  Not doing her sitcom doesn’t meant to say she’s not working. “I’ve got my own channel. I’m working on content for that. When I fell back into writing the show for a 10thseason it was just like riding a bike. I turned my back brain on. They didn’t take that away. They killed me off but that was just stage one. Stage two is over (her breakdown). I’m at stage three now – their pain. The karmic boomerang. I can’t allow them to win. I’m not that kind of a person. 
  Did you ever read that book about circus freaks? The parents shot the kids up with drugs when they were in the uterus so that they would be born with two heads. I’ve also thought about a movie called Sitcom and everything would be based on real things that I lived through. They’re hilarious now a million years have passed. They weren’t funny at the time. I was talking to Mel Gibson about a movie based on the Torah. I would love to write that with Mel. He’s a very good director.”
  So much for him being a Jew hater. “He’s a very layered structure of a human being. He’s unstoppable. Been there, done that. Here’s my talent motherfuckers.”
  She thinks President Trump is a very layered man.
  “He’s a real deep thinker.” That’s now how he comes across. “Well that’s his Trump puppet. He’s got a Trump puppet and he’s somewhere else. Like here’s a shiny object. It’s too complicated. I’ve met him several times. And don’t forget you can’t judge anyone for how they Tweet on Twitter.”
  We agree that Prozac makes one quiet. She has taken anti-depressants of course. There isn’t anything she hasn’t done. “They dull your rage. Most people don’t like angry women. And Prozac makes you just numb but sometimes you need that, get through the trauma. This trauma I’ve faced it head on and I haven’t done that before. I didn’t face it alone. I let people in to help me like my boyfriend and my mom. My mom took really good care of me for 3 months until I got back on my feet. We’ve been on good terms for about 20 years now but this time she was just wonderful and I felt a lot of love from people I hadn’t let in, so more now than ever before I let the love in.”
  Does she think because of that people want to help her? “I don’t know. I think they might have identified with getting screwed.”
  She really has found a kind of strength from being vulnerable, from letting people in. It’s magnetic. She’s allowing herself to be empathic whereas before she closed walls like armour. She’s already spent almost a year in purdour. The last time she radically offended, it took years. I called it the star mangled banner incident. It’s when she grabbed her crotch and spat ata nationally aired baseball game in July 1990 at the playing of The Star Spangled Banner. She was called disgraceful by then President Bush.
  “That’s when I pissed off the right and now I’ve pissed off the left. It took about fifteen years but they got over it.”
  Did she ever want to be liked? A really long pause. “Well yeah. I’m human but I didn’t want to be liked by the wrong people. I wanted to be liked by the right people and noticed by the wrong people.”
  Why was it so different when you allowed your mother to support you? “I realise that’s what I wanted my whole life but I never felt I got it.”
  Did she push people away? “Yeah. I left men unless I needed them and I needed to change that. I’d already kind of changed that since becoming a grandmother. That was fading. Life can change.”
  Do you mean this is the final metamorphosis? “I hope not my final. I think now I’m gonna figure out what God wants for me. But I never do anything unless I think God wants me to do it.”
  Does she think God wanted her to shut people out? “No. he wanted me to expand my radius of love. That’s what he wants for everybody.”

Richard Gere (London Sunday Times Magazine, February 10, 2019)

I’d flown to New York from LA to meet Richard Gere. He is in his first ever TV series – the BBC’s Mother, Father, Son – a complicated tale of families and how to survive them set with Gere as a self-made man, a billionaire newspaper owner and influencer – by that I don’t mean he’s got a lot of followers on Instagram – I mean shortbread with the Prime Minister.
  Gere himself lives in upstate New York but has chosen to meet me at a simple but chic Italian eaterie in Chelsea in the city. It’s booked under my name to preserve his anonymity.
  It’s pouring with rain. I’m in a sopping Fedora and distinctive golden brocade coat. There had been a lot of weather which had resulted in hefty delays and a diversion to Minneapolis so the 16 hours of travel and then the Nat West Bank calling me at 4am east coast time, had all resulted in extreme exhaustion and sleep deprivation so when I turned ap 45 seconds early for our table it was because I needed caffeine. The chic but simple restaurant said I could sit at the bar- not the table till noon that was their policy. I said I didn’t want to sit at the bar for 15 seconds. I wanted a large espresso before my guest arrives – but too late he’s here. 
  Dressed for the rain. Collar up, cap on looking as inconspicuous as a still sexy 69 year old A-Lister can manage. I didn’t want him to know I was the hysterical caffeine deprived woman. It was noon. They showed me to my table. I took off my conspicuous coat and pretended that I hadn’t been that woman. He sits down and looks at me quizzically. He’s got a great quizzical look that looks right through you.
  He’s wearing his trademark rimless glasses. His platinum hair flattened by the rain and the cap but it’s still full. He’s still the man from the poster of An Officer and A Gentleman except he’s not wearing the tight, white trousers. He’s still the man from Pretty Woman but without the expensive looking suit. He’s more pared down, relaxed, grey pants. Simple as he would say, but not ordinary. 
  Of course, he knew it was me. Why was I so upset? Now I was embarrassed. He told me not to be as he ordered a jasmine tea.
  “The American Indians bred horses which were essentially quarter horses. They had great stamina great speed, great agility but their greatest attribute is that they calm down quickly. They bred this horse so that you could ride him hard, work him hard but then calm him down because thoroughbreds stay hyper all the time so maybe you’re a little too thoroughbred.
  Oh my God. Smooth or what?
  He lives with his 17 year old dog, his son Homer (19) from his ex-wife Carey Lowell and new wife Alejandra Silva (35), an activist and her son Albert (6). They’re going to have their first baby any minute. 
  When I asked Jeff Goldblum recently how he felt about having babies after the age of 60, he told me that he went to therapy to work out those issues. Did Gere worry about being an older parent? He looks at me like I’m mad.
  “Not at all.” Some people might be worried though. “No…” he shakes his head. If he was ever a worrier he’s not now. Nothing seems to bother him including what people think of him. I tell him I’m surprised that he even turned up for an interview at all. In the past the press have savaged him. I read a lot of celebrity press cuttings constantly – for research -I’ve never seen any as bizarre as his. And cruel. Around 30 years ago there was an urban myth about his sexual proclivities. It ran and ran until about ten years ago . The rumours were so ridiculous I’m not sure how they ever made it legally to print. Then there were other rumours about his unstable and unloving marriage to Cindy Crawford in the early 90s
  He must have felt pushed into a corner. He took out an ad in the New York Times stating that the marriage to Crawford was a happy one and they were both heterosexual only to divorce 6 months later in 1995. Once again, something that met with criticism. Allegations that could not have happened in the me too / diversity era of now.
  A few years ago, he said, “If I was a giraffe and somebody said I was a snake I’d think no, I’m actually a giraffe. Those kinds of things hurt people around you more than they hurt you because they hurt for you.”
  Soon after this he stopped making Hollywood studio movies, favouring independent movies and some of the most acclaimed work of his career like 2016’s Norman and his Globe nominated Arbitrage. Mother, Father, Son is his first ever TV series. How did that compare to working on a movie?
  “It was like doing 4 indie movies back to back, but the same one.” Was it not interesting and challenging for him to develop the character over 8 episodes? “No, I don’t think I’ll do this again to tell you the truth. It’s 6 months of shooting (in the UK). It’s too long.”
  Is that because his character Max is quite harsh? He didn’t want to be around him. He jumps to Max’s defence.
  “I don’t think he’s harsh. He’s a man who’s clear about what he wants and what he’s doing. People who work for him like him. He’s fair and he cares about them. He’s just not a typical guy. The cast is great. As good as any I’ve worked with. Billy Howle (who plays his son) is a superstar. I was so impressed with him as a person and an actor.”
  Helen McRory plays his ex-wife and he found her “terrific” although he’s never seen her in her much-loved role in Peaky Blinders. He continues to tell me that Max is not hard but he had a hard life, grew up in his father’s steel factory in Pennsylvania and his father wanted to make him a tougher character.
  “This series is a deep and honest exploration of journalism, publicity, the potentially dark mix of bad politics.”
  Does he think journalism is dark? “It doesn’t have to be. It’s certainly very competitive. I’m old enough to remember when news was not expected to make money. It was a service and people who worked in that area felt that they were doing something that was profound, telling the truth. Now they’re all rivals and the press in the UK is particularly difficult. As I said I don’t care. I’ve been around this a long time.”
  Was he always like this? Not caring. “The things I have control over I care about but things I don’t have control over, why bother?” I tell him that reading the toxicity in his press clippings gave me chills. “Honey, I don’t care.” It was a nice, warm ‘honey’, not a patronising ‘honey’. What about your mother/father?
  Did his mother and father inform his character Max?
  “Tell the truth, it was probably the location. My parents grew up not far from where the character grew up. beyond that I had a very different mother and father (Gere was born in Philadelphia. His mother Doris was a housewife. His father Homer (97) was in insurance agent. Gere was the second child of five. 
  Did he have the kind of father who wanted to instil discipline – make him tough?
  “Not at all. I don’t know if Max is about discipline. It’s about you have a number of years on this planet, make something of it. I think all of us feel that way about our kids, not you’ve got to do it this way or that way.” 
  The conversation circles back to his new baby. Gere doesn’t really show emotions like excitement, anger. He pares it all down but you can tell he is excited about it. It’s a boy, right? “Nobody knows because we haven’t told anybody.”
  Homer, named after his grandfather is in a gap year between high school and college. Is he artistic or science biased? “He’s very sweet, very sensitive, very smart. He’s smarter than me, stronger than me, faster than me, taller than me, better than me. He’s great. I love him.”
  Soon there will be a family of five. At the moment they are four. How is that family dynamic. Who rules? “Who do you think rules?” Probably your wife. “Probably.” Is that because he doesn’t have arguments? “No, it’s because she’s smarter than us.”
  One thing they’re not arguing about is what to watch on TV. “I don’t watch much television. I like the Sopranos and Game of Thrones. I like to watch the news. I like to know what’s going on.” Doesn’t that depend on what news channel he is watching? American TV news comes with a bias depending on what channel it’s on.
  “It’s not really that hard. First of all, don’t believe anything Trump says. The opposite of what he says is going to be the truth. It’s pretty easy. I have a very full life and honestly, TV is not high on my priority list.”
  Would he do more TV if it didn’t take 6 months out of his life? “It depends on the script. The selling point on this for me was the script and this script is fabulous. They had to send me 6 episodes before I would commit to it. I don’t think there are bad guys here. They are all living and breathing and working through their issues. It’s very well written like that. It gives you a dream space. I’ve never met a person who is simple so the more time you spend with someone the more levels you’re going to find and certainly having 8 hours with these people you’re going to know layers of their being and their dreams.”
  How was it working for the BBC? Were they cheap? “I never experienced them as a corporation, just as a production. It was the same as making an independent movie.”
  It’s been 11 years since Nights in Rodante (2008), his last studio movie which was huge box office ($84 million) but critically panned. These das he’s not been attracted to studio movies at all. 
  “I make the same kind of movies I’ve always made but the studios don’t make them anymore but they make them independently.”
  By this I think he means the studios make movies ruled by CGI aimed at the teenage male market. I read at one point that the studios had been asked not to use Gere because their money-making Chinese counterparts didn’t want him in China because of his pro Dalai Lama, anti-China politics?
  “No, it’s more complex than that. China has a system for foreign films that can play in China. Chinese distributors want to have the big blockbuster CGI movies. Successful box office movies. That’s the highest priority. I don’t make those kind of movies so whatever their issues are with me politically – and they have issues with me – it’s irrelevant because it doesn’t change the kind of movies I make and has no effect on me whatsoever because I don’t make movies they would be buying.”
  He’s putting lots of black pepper and rock salt into the olive oil and we’re dipping our bread in. We order ravioli with butternut squash and walnuts. I ask for extra cheese. Gere advises I won’t need it. He’s of the ‘less is more, simple is best’ school of thought and I’m ‘bring me more cheese’. He is of course right. Our pasta is good. “Delicate but filling.”
  Gere tells me, “I’m not in the city that much. Mostly I’m in the country.” He has a hotel in Bedford, upstate New York.
  “It was fun to take a building that was falling apart and that’s been various inns and rooming houses. It was built in the 1760s when the British burnt down most of Bedford but not that. There are 8 rooms and a yoga loft.” 
  He’s not intending to branch out to a chain of hotels or being a hotelier as a back up career. Not that he knows what he’s got coming up work wise.
  “I went through a period of making back to back difficult films which I loved. I’m reading things. I’ll see what touches me.”
  Perhaps the arrival of the new baby means it’s a good time not to be working? “Life is work so one is always working but maybe not working with a camera in your face. The pressure of having a camera in your face every day it’s not natural and it takes a bit of getting used to. It takes a lot out of anybody.” 
  And now he wants to be a hands-on daddy? “Oh yes. I’m there.”
  In an interview he gave many years ago he said, “I reacted to fame like an animal, I ran and hid from it.” Does he remember that?
  “Sure. I don’t think many people are built to be scrutinised over and over again all day long, except maybe Trump. I think what maybe problematic with him is the extreme narcissism. He’s a train wreck so you want to watch a train wreck. That’s what he trades in.”
  Why does he think people were so compelled to watch him to make him want to run like an animal? He was never visibly a train wreck. Maybe the idea was to goad him into causing one to happen? 
  “It doesn’t matter. These are small things now. I see them in a different perspective to how I saw them then. Then it was with a young man’s energy. I’ve been around for a long time so I’ve seen a lot and these things don’t throw me anymore. My reaction was to have the animal response of fleeing. Now I just work. People don’t realise that but what an actor does is work, not play. It is creative but the concentration is hard, the hours are hard, it’s taxing emotionally and psychologically. You have to be continually breaking through stupid stuff to find the honesty. It’s not easy work and I love it because it uses every bit of me. My heart, my soul, whatever I’ve got.”
  I’m relaxed enough to mop up my sauce with my bread while I just feel happy to admire the man sitting opposite me. However much he downplays it, he’s still a striking presence. Was he pleased or horrified to be trapped in the sexiest man alive peg? 
  “I’m not trapped, not pegged. Other people may be, but not me. I just work, that’s what I do.”
  Nothing I’ve said or done seems to irritate him even though I have been irritating. Did he work on being so calm? “I was fortunate early on. I was searching, a natural human process to make sense of it all. I had the instinct to search for an answer and I was very fortunate that I was able to find Buddhism and find great teachers. I’m very fortunate that I’m able to devote my life to these daily teachings. If you do the practise you get the results.”
  He is the living proof. “No, I’m not. The Dalai Lama is. But I’m doing good. It’s not a magic trick. It’s doing the work. There is no other thing for us to do in this lifetime than work on ourselves.”
  His life affirming audience with the Dalai Lama was “maybe 35 years ago”. How was it? “Everyone’s expectation is you’re meeting the Dalai Lama. He’s going to go ‘everything’s going to be alright.’ It doesn’t work that way. I was so impressed by his utter simplicity and skill in dealing with me. He got into the deep layers of who I was but not in a Shamanistic or magical way, just simply. One can feel the hard-won wisdom, the way you would with a great college professor. They’ve worked on themselves. And the other side is about open-hearted compassion and empathy. It’s not just about feeling altruistic.”
  Empathy is a skill set. “Empathy can be primitive. Babies have it. If one starts crying, they all start crying. One laughs, they all do that. But that doesn’t take you very far. Wisdom starts to kick in and you start to feel ‘my emotions aren’t much different than the emotions of this person’. What am I going to do with that? I’m going to make a commitment that I’m going to remove the suffering from that person and develop myself to the point where my ego is quite small. Then I really know how to help someone else. It becomes spontaneous.”
  For instance, when I arrived in this restaurant exasperated, panicking, angry, embarrassed, anxious, he became like the therapy dog I met in Minneapolis airport. Bella the golden retriever was on hand to calm stressed, delayed passengers. He’s taken my anxiousness away and I’m left feeling something mystical.
  How did an interview over lunch with Richard Gere become neo nirvana? “It makes it easier, doesn’t it? Just let it go.” I’m seeing him now with a sign above his head. ‘Pet Me’. “How nice…The Dalai Llama gets up at 3.30 every day and works his mind.
  I get up at 4.30/5.00 to work on my mind.”
  Shall we have dessert? “I am a dessert person but I don’t usually have any for lunch.” Nonetheless, I order a Tiramisu to share. “I have to pick up my wife so I can’t be late.”
  He met Alejandra four and a half years ago in Italy. Was it one of those instant love at first sights? “Instant from my side. I instantly became happy just looking at her. It was one of those powerful things.” Has this ever happened to him before? “Yes – I’ve been married three times – but it didn’t happen with the kind of power this one was. But I do remember the first time I met each of my wives. I’m very lucky.”
  And even though things may not have ended well with Crawford and Lowell, he doesn’t hold onto any toxicity. He simply says, “I’m very lucky.”

Dennis Quaid (London Sunday Times Magazine, December 2, 2018)

Chrissy Iley & Dennis Quaid
Chrissy Iley & Dennis Quaid

I meet Dennis Quaid in The Village recording studio, West LA. Every rock God from Tom Petty to Robert Plant seems to have made their greatest albums there.  Quaid, 64, is recording his first album with his band The Sharks. He jokes, “The oldest rock band ever to make a debut album.”
      Everybody says it but it’s true. He’s handsome.  Tall, ripped, good cheekbones and good hair and inquiring eyes – the kind that make you feel he’s interested in what you have to say. He’s in skinny jeans and a dark tee. 
    He was born in Houston, Texas. Grew up wanting to be a cowboy or an astronaut. As an actor he could and was indeed both. His breakout leading role was in The Big Easy in 1986 famous for his sexy chemistry with Ellen Barkin. He was Jerry Lee Lewis in Great Balls of Fire (1989), played opposite Meryl Streep in Postcards from The Edge (1990) and was Doc Holliday in Wyatt Earp (1994).
     He disappeared for a while as a leading man but returned in a Globe winning performance as the closet gay in Todd Haynes Far From Heaven (2002). He was in last year’s super weepy surprise hit A Dog’s Purpose.
     And he’s next up reprising his role in the Sci-Fi TV series Fortitude (Sky), set 400 miles from the North Pole – the safest place on earth that suddenly becomes violent, dangerous and spooky.  
     “I really loved it,” he says of the extreme temperature. “I’ve been colder in New York.” In the last series his character (Michael Lennox) went a little crazy. After obsessively trying to find a cure for his wife’s far too rapidly progressing wasting disease, she dies.  He becomes undone with grief and starts drinking.  “How about that…”
     “I connected to my character because we’re both extremely bull headed.”
     Astrologically he’s not a bull, he’s an Aries and I know this because he’s the same day as my dad and Hugh Hefner – April 9. He and Hef had a birthday party together once.
     “It wasn’t really a joint birthday party. It was his party which I was at. It just happened to be my birthday.” He’s exactly the type who would never miss a Hef birthday bash.
     “April 9th people are filled with adrenaline. They are tenacious and optimistic. They run before they think. They are comfortable in extremes. The middle ground is…” (he pulls a face) “we don’t want that.”
    Quaid calls himself a romantic – has been married 3 times, divorced 3 times. The first to actress P J Soles (1978-1983), most famously to Meg Ryan (1991-2001), most recently to Texas real estate agent Kimberly Buffington (2004) and his divorce finalised just a few weeks ago.  
     “I think what divorce does is it takes away your identity. It’s like a death. Your identity is wrapped up in the relationship and if it’s not going to be there…” His eyes are searching, troubled. He finishes the sentence, “who are you?”
     Isn’t it death of a family member and moving house that are supposed to cause the most stress to the human psyche?
     “And then there’s divorce which is death and moving. The birth of a child is another stressful situation. Not just because things could go wrong (his ten-day old twins were given a thousand times stronger dosage of blood thinner by mistake and the babies nearly died) but also because you have to redefine who you are.”
    Does he mean he was no longer Dennis but daddy? “Yes, my son Jack is 26 now. I was 38 when he was born and I realised my life was over. I could no longer have any guilt free experiences… I’m exaggerating but I am responsible for someone else in the world and that’s never going to go away. My mother (91) still worries about me.”
     She texts him nearly every day. His mother Juanita was in real estate and his father William Rudy an electrician.
     “He passed away when he was 63 in 1987 of a heart-attack. And I’m 64 so when I had my 63rd birthday it was a psychological moment – it definitely ran through my mind then I forgot about it until one night a few months ago I was having trouble sleeping and it hit me. My dad’s birthday was November 21st and he died on February 8th and I started adding up the days and I was exactly that age. Then the next day I realised I was older than he ever made. I made it past. I intend to live until I am 130.”
     How did he redefine himself when he had the twins Thomas Boone and Zoe Grace born via a surrogate in 2007?
     “It was very different. You have both of them coming at you at once. The good part is that they each have a playmate and the hard part is that you have to do everything double.” They are now 10.
     Did having twins change the relationship with his then wife? “Having kids always changes your relationship.”
     He says of Meg Ryan “We are friends.” I’m sure that wasn’t always the case. At the time of their separation in 2000 they were the biggest couple in Hollywood. They were at the peak of their careers. When they lost each-other they lost grasp on that, with only Quaid regaining acclaim and ratings.  America’s sweetheart got puffy and pillow faced with fillers. Her currency redundant. Quaid stayed himself, determined, chiselled, handsome. He says he works out a lot because, “I’m vain. The industry’s vain.”  Plus remember, he’s planning on living to 130
     The most unusual place he had sex is in an elevator. “Is that really unusual?” he muses. “It was a slow elevator. It was in Quebec.  It must be the French influence. It was the elevator going to my own apartment so it wasn’t like a public building.”
     That makes it a little more boring. “Well, not for me.” But there wasn’t the excitement that someone could call the elevator and the doors would open. “It’s true. I knew the other floors were currently unoccupied and no one was coming in but she didn’t,” he laughs. Was this a while ago? “Not too long.” Out of politeness I stifle my giggle because in the next room is his girlfriend of 2 years, French-Canadian model Santa Auzina, 31. She’s tall, blonde, endless legs, tiny lycra shorts, tiny vest, smiles a lot like nothing bothers her.  We all wish we had that smile. She’s documented their love, their soulmate status with many Instagram posts of their exotic holiday destinations as a couple.
     I think Quaid enjoys talking about his mistakes.  We start from the movies he turned down.
     “I turned down Big. I hit myself over that. At the time there were three other movies with a similar storyline and Big was going to be second but it wasn’t. I should have taken Big.”
     He also missed out on An Officer and a Gentleman. “I didn’t turn it down. I was on an around the world trip with my wife. In those days you could buy a ticket for $1000. My then wife PJ Soles and I were going around the world. We were literally half way round, in New Delhi, when my agent called and said, ‘The part is yours. You just have to come back. Taylor Hackford wants you’. We cut short the vacation. We flew back to LA and either they had decided while I was en route they wanted Richard Gere… I did not get the part.”
     Did that contribute to his first divorce – cutting short the big vacay? “No, they even said they would send me back on my vacation if it didn’t work out. They didn’t.” 
    Curiously, he’s already played several presidents. Why does he think he’s such a good presidential candidate?
     “You get to a certain age and you can play presidents if you have that trustworthy/untrustworthy look.”
     So far, he’s been Clinton, Bush, and he’s just about to be Regan. “I was Bill Clinton in A Special Relationship (2010) when Michael Sheen was Tony Blair and a Bush like character (President Staton) in American Dreamz (2006). I was offered George W Bush for the Katrina film but I turned it down because of conflicts in schedule. Regan is a very interesting person. So many stories that people who were close to him didn’t really know him.”
     He became friends with Clinton. “I spent a weekend at the White House when I was married to Meg. We went there when we were invited to the King of Spain’s state dinner.”   (In a frighteningly convincing Clinton impersonation he continues) ‘You’ve got to stay, you’ve got to stay. We’re gonna play some golf.’”
    “Meg went home, Hillary was out of town so it was just me and Bill. We played golf, we got in the Presidents Limousine and had a couple of Subway sandwiches. At the time I was better at golf but he would have been a much better golfer if he wasn’t President.
     “He was the smartest guy I’ve ever met and very kind to me. When it was announced that Meg and I were getting a divorce he called me from Airforce One. He was over the Atlantic right after Palestinian talks had collapsed. I don’t know how he found me but he did. He just wanted to let me know he was thinking of me.”
     The week after our interview he is off to Canada for a sequel to A Dog’s Purpose. He’s heard the stories that people who never cry dissolved during that movie. It’s sentimental, it’s about dogs who are devoted, who love you and then they die but the love goes on.
     Quaid has always been a dog person. Grew up with them. At the moment he has a miniature English bulldog named Peaches. 
     “Just one. I had two French Bulldogs die in the same year. One natural causes as they say, he went into the kids bathroom which he never went into, lay down and had a stroke or heart attack. The other drowned in the pool. It was really hard to take. They weren’t brothers, they were two years apart but they loved each other.”
     We wonder could the second one have thrown himself into the pool on purpose? He nods, “It could have been. If you’re going to have pets you’re going to have death.”
     In the dog movie the dog is reincarnated and comes back several times as a different type of dog. Quaid has always been interested in various kinds of spiritual thinking – he doesn’t like organised religion.      
     “When I was 11 I was baptised into the Baptist church. Then I was re-baptised in the Ganges river by a friend of mine who was a preacher. When I went round the world my question was ‘Who is God to you?’ I’ve read the bible twice, the Koran, the Baghavad Gita. I’m a seeker. I used to call myself a Zen Baptist. Basically, I’m a Christian but everyone goes through a crisis of faith. I have crisis all the time… but some of them are champagne crisis meaning that’s a pretend crisis.”
     The crisises in his life have been quite documented, especially the divorces and cocaine addiction, yet more recently he had a new addiction – the Swiffer.
     “Yes, it’s true. I got obsessed with dusting with the Swiffer. It was right after the divorce in my single life. I would get into bed and my feet were just black from everything.  I didn’t like that feeling so I discovered the Swiffer. It works quickly and it picks up all the dust. Doesn’t that say something about my champagne crisis?”
     It says that he wasn’t comfortable without someone taking care of the home. It says that the dust in the apartment and the black feet symbolised that he was alone. He still drinks champagne and other forms of alcohol. He gave it up for 10 years as part of the process of giving up cocaine in the 90s.
     “Then I started drinking again because alcohol was never my problem. I never liked the feeling of being drunk.”
    Alcohol high and cocaine high are opposites.
     “I would do coke and I would use alcohol to come down.”
    What about doing coke so he didn’t feel drunk?
    “That was the deal back then so I had to break the cycle.”
     He reminisces. “I liked coke. I liked it to go out.  I missed it for quite a while. I used to grind my teeth for four years. I was doing about 2 grams a day. I was lucky. I had one of those white light experiences where I saw myself being dead and losing everything I had worked for my whole life so I put myself in rehab. I had a band, basically Bonnie Raitt’s backing band and the night after we got a record deal we broke up. (Like in The Commitments) The next day I was in rehab.” 
     “I took anti-depressants back in the day around coming off cocaine because there’s a depression that goes on. It’s a temporary thing. I don’t think they were ever intended to be taken on a long-term basis.”
   When he was coming off cocaine did he want to eat a lot? “Yes, I wanted to sleep too. I suddenly discovered sleeping.”
   He does eat. I’ve just seen him bolt a giant sandwich down in less than 30 seconds. “I’ve always had a high metabolism. I get high from exercising. I really do. I think it does what all those anti-depressants are supposed to do.”
     When he played Doc Holliday in Wyatt Earp, he lost 44 pounds because the character was wasting away from tuberculosis.
     “I went down to 138 pounds and it took me a year to put it back on because when you get into that compulsive obsessive behaviour of not eating it does strange things to your mind and it took me a while to get over that self-image of myself. I got over it and now I don’t follow any diet and I like cooking. My signature dish? A Louisiana seafood gumbo.”
    “But I also like caviar. Would you like some? I’ve just bought some. It’s here in the studio fridge.” I decline to join the caviar party although any partying with Quaid has got to be fun. I am impressed with his self-confidence, his charisma.  He has not had work done he has just worked on himself.  For a minute I am confused but he reminds me, at my request, of some chronology.  He was not doing drugs or alcohol went he met Ryan and they were married for 9 years.
    “I was single for several years and I met Kimberly.  We were married in 2005 and our divorce finally wound up a couple of months ago.”  The divorce with Kimberly went on and off a few times and the only constant was his band.
    He formed the Sharks 18 years ago. He tells me he was always a performer.  Always a song writer.
    “The Sharks are having a great time. We’ve done about 40 gigs this year. After this last divorce I’ve really got back into music again. I was going to be a musician before I was an actor.”
     Has anyone famous ever recorded his songs? “No, that would be an ideal thing. I’ve been going to Nashville quite a lot recently. It’s my favourite city. It’s such a collegiate feeling. Everyone is there for each other.”
     We talk about the possibility of living in Nashville. “I tried to move back to Texas (Austin) because I grew up in Houston. But when I moved back I found myself meandering around the house. I didn’t factor in that I’d already spent 35 years in Los Angeles and your friends and the places you haunt… so I moved back.”
     “For 30 years I had a ranch in Montana. It was beautiful. I used to spend 4 months of the year there but then it dwindled down with work and whenever I’d go there I’d find for the first week I’d just be fixing things but I felt too guilty to go anywhere else so I decided to sell it.”
     “I grew up wanting to be a cowboy but as I grew up in Houston – a space city and I wanted to be an astronaut. Gordo Cooper was my favourite astronaut because he was a bit rock n roll and had a cool name. Gordo is short for Gordon. I read his book and said if they’re ever making a movie I want to play him. And I did. I met him and he put me in touch with a flight instructor. I’ve got my pilots license so now I can fly jets. I’m learning to fly a helicopter. It’s like riding a magic carpet… I love to travel. I just hate to leave but it’s always really great to arrive.”
     He does enjoy simple pleasures such as calf roping. “Calf roping is where you’re on a horse and another person is on the left and on the right the calf is let out of the chute. He runs, you catch the horns and the other person catches the foot. It was a skill learned when they gathered cows for branding but you get timed for it. 
    “Horses are such sweet animals. Such intimacy when you are on a horse, especially bareback. He can feel your heartbeat and you can feel his.  They are very sensitive animals, not predators. They always look around for danger.”
     He mimics a horse with eyes doing a panorama.
    He shows me pictures of the Icelandic horses he encountered when filming Fortitude and teams of dogs pulling his sledge. He explains that the dogs are ranked fastest at the front and get competitive with one another and that the horses are climbers. 
    “About 3,000 people live there and 5,000 polar bears although I didn’t see a single one. It doesn’t snow the whole year but the snow blows around. They don’t have immigration or tariffs so it reminds you of the old West.”
    So once again a dream come true – an Arctic cowboy. He enjoyed the extreme of Fortitude where they had 5 days of almost total darkness. “I don’t know if there will be another series. If you’re an actor in a series you want to keep it going but maybe the golden age of many seasons is over.”
   He doesn’t seem to have the slightest insecurity about that. 
     Santa is patiently waiting in another room. I wonder was it a conflict with his recently ex-wife?
     “No, it wasn’t a conflict. I met her very close after my ex and I were separated. I was just going to be single and that was just going to be it. I was going to be stone cold Steve Austin when it came to love and then Santa came along. It was like….”
     She replaced the Swiffer?
     “She’s better than a Swiffer, that’s for sure. She was not going to let it go. Couldn’t help it.  So, I had to go with it.  I am a romantic. I like being in a relationship, I really do. It’s fun to be single up to a point but I like being in a relationship. I also like having kids around, as annoying as they can be sometimes, I am a family orientated person.”
     Is he planning more kids?
     “I’m not planning kids. I don’t rule anything out.”
    And that’s how Dennis Quaid gets to be Dennis Quaid… he works out every day and he doesn’t rule anything out.

Rob Lowe (London Sunday Times Magazine, November 25, 2018)

Rob Lowe and Chrissy Iley
Rob Lowe and Chrissy Iley

I’m waiting for Rob Lowe at the Polo Lounge, Beverley Hills Hotel. I’m sat in his favourite table, corner banquette outside. The best spot “for people watching”. When he arrives, the staff perform bowing rituals as if he is royalty.  As indeed he is – Hollywood royalty, having started off in the 1983 era defining Francis Ford Coppola film The Outsiders and proceeding to become a high-octane member of the Brat Pack with Robert Downey Jr, Sean and Chris Penn, Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen after his role in St Elmo’s Fire.

After a decade of excess (of everything – alcohol, sex) he found his niche proper as Press Secretary Sam Seaborn in The West Wing.

There’s been a profusion of TV series including Code Black and the much loved Parks and Rec, a Globe nomination for his The Grinder and for his role as Dr Jack Startz (creepy cosmetic surgeon) in Beyond The Candalabra and a whole new career as an author.   His memoirs Stories I Only Tell My Friends and Love Life are both wonderful reads (both NY Times Best Sellers) with just the right amount of fun, self-deprecation and revelation.

In the flesh he is so handsome you gasp – perfect, chiselled, jaw droppingly handsome. His skin is firm and tan, his slinky body ripples under his dark blue T shirt. His eyes are cornflower blue. Not surprisingly he’s got a skincare range called Profile. Who wouldn’t want to have his skin?

“I’m so hungry,” he announces as soon as he sits down. While you might assume Rob Lowe’s hungry would be for a piece of steamed fish, it’s a burger he’s craving with fries and we share a Macarthy salad to start. It’s an enormous chopped salad involving very bad things.

He’s about to leave for London where on December 1 he will perform his one man show Stories I Only Tell My Friends. He says he’s written it instead of a third book. He’s also going to be filming Wild Bill, a crime drama for ITV set in the Midlands.

When the chunky salad comes it seems as if he’s hungry on another level, an emotional one. Is that a tear glistening in his eye?

He tells me his three-year old dog, Jack a German short haired pointer has just died. He’s in town for meetings. His home is in Santa Barbra and everything happened so quickly he couldn’t get back to say goodbye. “By yesterday he was blind and having seizures. They think he was poisoned. I saw him eating mushrooms in the yard… I pulled him off but I must have been too late… He was such a f****** good boy. I’ll show you a picture of him.”

He shows me the dog – sensitive eyed, brown and white speckled.  Lowe loves his dogs. He has another, a Jack Russell called David. He took David to see an animal communicator.

“She would give voice to the animal such as ‘David wants you to know he’s working very hard and he doesn’t feel he’s appreciated.’ David is 17 and every time I go away I think somethings going to happen to him…but it was this guy. He was so happy and I’ve never had a dog that would play fetch with me all day long. David doesn’t do fetch but David was a surf professional. He would surf with his own life preserver on and a dog board but he gave it up.”

Would Lowe ever give up surfing? “Hell no. I’m into it more than ever.”  Lowe is into many things. He’s the ultimate multi tasker. Acting, writing, surfing. There’s an energy from him that’s nothing to do with his high caffeine consumption. It’s an inner drive. It’s electric. It’s palpable. He’s used to turning things around. There have been quite a few life changing choices that have gone on for Lowe but more of that later.

“You know all dogs go to heaven.”

My sunglasses fall off my head because the arms are too wide. He tries to fix them. He’s got such elegant hands, long fingers, pink nail beds, an intricate wedding ring and a wizardy looking gold ring with a diamond triangle, both made by his wife Sheryl (nee Berkoff), the jewellery designer who sells at Bergdorfs and Niemans. High end stuff for high end people.

Does the wizardy one have magic powers?

“In a way. It’s the sign for being in recovery.” I’ve never seen anyone with a recovery style ring as beautiful as this one but I’ve never really seen anyone that’s been in recovery for 20 years. He’s passionate about being in recovery. He said if he’d been on the booze he wouldn’t have achieved anything and right now his days are very full.

“This is a very famous salad you know. It feels very Jackie Collins in the best possible way.” Indeed, it was her favourite salad. “I made it into one of her books once. It was a career highlight. It read ‘he walked into the room and he looked like Rob Lowe.’” I tell him no one looks like Rob Lowe. “You’re nice to say it,” and he smiles, happy to have a compliment and I’m happy that he’s not one of these people who say, ‘no, no, surely not.’

The waitress delivers a candle even though it’s daylight to help the flies go away. They noticed from afar that the flies were bothering him. “Flies love me. I hate flies. My wife hates flies. Sheryl Lowe loses it over flies. Once we were in Hawaii. It’s a beautiful day and she says, ‘these flies have red faces.’ There’s nobody more quotable than Sheryl Lowe. I’ve had more people offer to make a reality series out of her than…”

Wait a minute. I thought you already did a reality series with your boys (Matthew 25 and John Owen 23). “Both smart, cool guys. The Lowe Files was us on the road exploring supernatural legends. A very different kind of reality. I loved it and I’m proud of it but if we had the traditional cameras following us everywhere it would be the biggest thing because my family is so nuts…My wife is such an original. Her business is growing faster than she can keep up with. It’s very inspiring to watch but not surprising. One of the reasons I fell in love with her when I was dating everybody under the sun was that she had her own business, her own work life, a tremendous work ethic and she was so driven. And that really comes through in everything she’s accomplished which is awesome.”

There was a time when Rob Lowe really was dating everybody who was A lister ready. And why not? He was young and gorgeous and available. He dated Natasha Kinski, Demi Moore, Princess Stephanie and Melissa Gilbert and admitted to using MTV like a home shopping network. If he saw a sexy dancer on the latest Sting video he would get her number.

The opening chapter of his book Stories I Only Tell My Friends is about how he lived in awe of John Kennedy Junior – his heritage, the fact that all of his girlfriends loved him and when John Kennedy Jr saw that Lowe was married to Sheryl and expressed surprise ‘How did you settle down?’ and Lowe recommended that the gorgeous blonde now chatting with his wife was one that Kennedy should not let go, soon after Kennedy married Caroline.  Just after he put Lowe on the cover of his magazine George he was killed in the plane crash.

But how did Lowe do it? How did the most handsome man in the world make monogamy interesting?

“When it came down to it, what kind of woman do you want?  There were the Princess Stephanie’s who sleep till 5.00pm, wake up, dinner, no less than 15 people a night, a club, repeat, repeat, repeat. Or there’s the Sheryl Lowe’s who come from nothing and own their own house by the time they are 20.”

We realise he’s missing a pickle and the pickle arrives immediately. Not sure he’ll get this kind of service in the Midlands where he goes to shoot Wild Bill.

“I play an American law enforcement analyst whose father was a cop who never wanted to be ground down by the system. He went to Stanford, got his degree in algorithms and still ended up in law enforcement. He has a 13-year old daughter who’s struggling since her mom has died. He’s been headhunted by the police force in Boston UK to come and take care of the largest crime rate per capita in the UK.”

We’re not sure if the crime rate statistic is fact or fiction but in 2018 the Lincolnshire area crime rate was higher than average and in 2016 it was the highest in the UK.

“It’s a classic fish out of water – cosmopolitan American comes to the Midlands. It’s a different case each week but each case has a direct correlation to the growth and discovery of the character. It’s an interesting hybrid in the way that you could only do it in the UK because it’s a character driven piece with procedural elements. He’s a fly off at the mouth, say anything, hot tempered guy and he runs foul of the skittish British sensibility…”

But first up is the one man show. I tell him I can’t wait to see his show live. It has stand up comedy elements and Q&A. When Lowe endured of those infamous VH1 roasts, no one enjoyed it more than him. He loves a bit of self-roasting. Roasts are scary, people insult you but he was ‘bring it on’. He is thrilled by self-deprecation.

“I’m so excited to see how it plays in the UK. It’s predominantly comedy. I give myself a pretty good beating.”

Why does he do that? Pause.

“All my heroes – and I say this in no way self reverentially – were big movie stars who owned it, had tons of charisma and didn’t shy away from it and were unbelievably self-deprecating and self-aware. They got the joke yet they were also being very serious. So it’s in that spirit that I write my books.”

The books flow. They are serious without taking themselves seriously.

“This is like having a third book that I can continue to amend. A living, breathing thing. My reference and inspiration for the first book was David Niven. Niven had a way of writing that delivered everything you want from a celebrity memoir.”

Humour, revelation and flow. “And self-deprecation. Get in, get out, nobody gets hurt. There’s a substance to his book like when you’re done with it, it’s not disposable.”

And I would say it’s the same of Lowes, which opens with the John Kennedy Jr moments and goes through his uncomfortable family set up (parents divorced when he was 4) The gregarious father was absent and his mother, a teacher, loved language.

Born in Dayton, Ohio he was a working actor at 8, in repertory at 15. There’s a punchy chapter about his excitement at being chosen for The Outsiders and his anguish when he saw most of his scenes had been cut.

Of course, it’s a compelling read – what eighties fame felt like from the inside and how it slipped away. He doesn’t slip away from his infamous incident the night  before the Democratic national convention. He was there at 24 supporting Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. He took two girls that he met in a nightclub back to his hotel room. His age had been checked rigidly. He assumed theirs had but one was only 16. Their encounter was filmed and the result was the very first leaked sex tape. The 16-year olds mother brought a civil suit against Lowe who ended up with a fine and 20 hours community service.

In the book he says that that night “would set in motion events that would ultimately, through a painful, long and circuitous path, lead me to greater happiness and fulfilment than I could ever have hoped for”

In the book he describes his return to TV in the West Wing and all of thats nuances…

“Writing a book for me was like writing an album. Do I want to open with a hit or the radio single? When Vanity Fair excerpted it, they opened with the radio single, the story about the casting of The Outsiders. All of my life I wanted to be on the cover of Vanity Fair. I never got it for my acting but my writing. For me Kennedy is the lead single (the hit). I also looked at having too many ballads, too many epic songs and that’s how I edited the book. When I do the show live, it’s the live album version as opposed to the studio version.

“What I wear has been an evolution. I started with a crisp suit, no tie, now it’s black jeans, black work boots, grey T shirt, leather jacket. It went from movie star to rock star. I base my entrance on the Rolling Stones. One of their nineties tours where all of a sudden there was a flash and they were just there. I don’t have a flash but I’m just there. It doesn’t feel like a show. It feels like a chat. The best part is the section where people ask questions.”

Are there any questions that he dreads? “No. the more unusual and off topic, the better the show is.” I wonder if US audiences talk about the sex tape, now 25 years old.

“I’ve done hundreds of Q&A’s with lots of questions each night and that never comes up.” I wonder if the British audiences are different in that they love the whiff of scandal, the idea of the beautiful being taken down into an ugly world, whereas American audiences prefer to raise people up.

“I don’t have any qualms about anything in my life. Everything’s in my book.” And it is. Those events are intimately depicted. He doesn’t shy away from it. It’s Lowe’s belief, if you front it out it makes it interesting, not dark and it adds to your charisma.

“I get a lot of West Wing questions and I love that. A lot of Parks and Rec questions.” His co-star in that, Rashida Jones referred to him as a benevolent narcissist. He beams when I bring it up, or is that the double expressos arriving?

“The show’s good for all ages. Kids who’ve rediscovered The Outsiders, middle aged women, maybe their husbands, predominantly female but not exclusively which is why you never know what subject they’re interested in.”

His career has been diverse, perhaps that’s the clue to its longevity. “I think you’ve got to have the goods. That’s prerequisite. Then you’ve got to be decently fortunate and pick the right things. Very few people can get it right every time.”

He says if he’d still been drinking, “It would have been over for me for sure. First of all, because of the pace of which I live my life… I did two years of a gruelling show called Code Black, a medical drama, then I went into directing, starring and editing a remake of The Bad Seed. And then I went to Africa for 6 weeks and shot a Netflix romantic comedy movie – Christmas in the Wild – it’s me and Kristin Davis. It’s in the vein of Eat, Pray, Love but in Africa. And then I partnered up with the people who made American Ninja Warrior and we made a version of it – the ultimate obstacle course but for the mind. The most technically complex set every built for a competition series. And my one man show – doing that is as close to being a rock star as I’ll ever get.

“Bradley Cooper’s done very well this year. Everyone’s raving about A Star Is Born and it’s a movie about addiction.”

Does that mean he’s slightly feeling it should have been him up there with the Kris Kristofferson beard, singing, talking amorously to Lady Gaga’s nose. “No.”  He says he’s too busy getting on with what he has done to think about what he didn’t do.

His Bad Seed movie for Lifetime TV was a remake of the film noir about a child serial killer. He says, “I’m really proud of it. My books, my one man show and The Bad Seed are the most personal things I’ve ever done because they’re mine and I’m not for hire…”

He downs his double expresso. He once said he’d like to have an caffeine IV drip feed him. He corrects himself. “I love working with the great collaborators.”

The great collaborators of The West Wing tried to stop him getting the solo cover of George magazine which seems a bit mean because he was the name that got the show on TV in the first place. No one had heard of writer Aaron Sorkin back then.

“Sometimes you think you’re crazy and I think was it as intense as I remember? The other day somebody had me sign the cover of the first season DVD. I went to sign my picture and I couldn’t find my face because they’d put me in the back row even though I’m first billed in the show…That’s just mean.

“In all fairness the West Wing was so good it didn’t need me, but it needed me initially for people to pay attention to it and it needed me to get it on the air but after that the show was amazing, the writing was great and everybody was amazing. But everybody runs things differently. It was their show, they called it.”

I don’t think he’s losing any sleep over what happened in the nineties. I like the way he knows himself. Sure, he’s done a lot of work on himself but it’s not that. There’s no false modesty, there’s no self-aggrandisement. There is a love of language and a vivid imagination and a sense of separateness, of otherness and a need to communicate their very being. That usually comes from being an only child but he has a brother Chad.

He nods. “It’s interesting you say that. He was four years younger than me and four years is a big difference when you’re young, especially because from the time I was eight I knew what I wanted to do and every single thing in my life was seen through the lens of wanting to get where I wanted to get, even at eight. So that immediately puts you aside from everybody else.”

He was working in local theatre when he was eight and repertory when he was 15. “I was the breadwinner for the family because my dad paying child support was always a major trauma. He was a lawyer and my mother’s parents had some money. My family was solidly middle class.

But is he a benevolent narcissist?

“All my heroes are benevolent narcissists. Rashida also said that her father, Quincy Jones, is the Mount Rushmore of benevolent narcissists, so anything where I’m mentioned in the same sentence as Quincy, I’m in. There is the element with the stars that I look up to as being larger than life and being unashamed about it. They are approachable and down to earth. That combination is rare but it’s what I love.”

That’s part of the complexity that makes him charismatic. He is larger than life yet approachable and unashamed. And what’s also rare is a lasting marriage. He nods.

“I talk a lot about Sheryl in the show. If I do another version at some point, the show will be almost exclusively on me and my wife. When I talk about her the audience love it because it’s humanising. Everybody is either married, wants to be married or had a bad marriage. I have a long sequence about why it’s impossible to sleep in the same bed as my wife (don’t want to ruin his punchline here. It’s partly because she snores and partly because of her obsessive watching Family Feud 16 episodes a night).”

People want to know how does he make monogamy interesting?

“I do talk about that but a little elliptically. You need to know it’s going to be a struggle at times. I don’t believe it’s a natural arrangement in terms of nature. But in terms of society, in terms of happiness, health, wellbeing, in terms of success nothing beats it. People’s natural inclination is to have a devil on their shoulder saying ‘is this it? Is this the last first kiss I’ll ever have? Is this the last first butterflies I’ll ever have? Is this my last wild, crazy sex I’ll ever have? These are all the things that may or may not be true, that get in the way. The key to it all is the same thing that Alfred Hitchcock said when he was asked what was the key to a hit movie. ‘Casting’. And I was great at casting. Do you know the phrase the picker is broken?”

I’ve never heard that phrase – it means making bad choices. What if you let other people pick you?

“Sometimes I like to let the inertia of events make decisions for me because it takes the pressure off. I’ve done a lot of thinking on this about intimacy and sex, intimacy and love, intimacy and relationships and I’ve done a lot, a lot, a lot of work on it.”

Does he think that sexual intimacy and love intimacy can be the opposite? For instance, one can be intimate sexually with someone and not love that person and vice versa.

“Absolutely.  You’ve diagnosed the problem.  Many people have that problem and that’s why most people have a hard time with long term monogamy because it’s not easy, but the integration of that is where long term intimacy and long-term monogamy lives. I know this 100% to be true.”

There’s a glint in his cornflower blue eye. It’s not quite a tear. More a chink in his steadfastness. A chink that says he always knows the right thing but sometimes he struggles.

“Left to my own devices I’m right there with you but you have to work on these things. Relationships. And if you’re not willing to work it’s not going to happen. If you’re not willing to forgive it’s not going to happen. People want to die proudly on their sword and oftentimes there’s more dignity in forgiveness. People may be able to grow and change and work on themselves too and not make the same mistakes over and over.”

The sunlight catches the diamond triangle on the wizardy looking ring. Maybe being in recovery is part of the magic because people who are recovering alcoholics have been forced to rock bottom and are forced to talk openly about themselves and to themselves.

“Working on yourself is not fun. Worse than painful, it can be boring. But if I look at the lengths I used to go to to find some bad behaviour, I should be able to go to those lengths to make my life better.”

He has said that his rock bottom came when he decided to finish a bottle of tequila rather than go home to his dying grandfather. Of course, he would never do such a thing now but the fact that he once did makes him much more human.

He’s politically savvy too. Fascinated by the post Brexit world. He remembers, “watching as the vote came in and Christiane Amanpour practically vomiting and crying as the sun came up on Big Ben. There’s nothing worse than a foreigner weighing in on the affairs of another country. That said, I’m so interested. I think there’s a connection to people in the US who are feeling forgotten and ignored and who are really mad. I’m fascinated by all of it. When I was in Africa I was out of the cable news cycle. I had broken my addiction for news and I feel the better for it.”

I’m not sure if I believe that. He’s far too keen to talk about Richard Quest – British CNN newsman.

He’s looking forward to his time in post Brexit Britain because watching people and how things change interests him.

“I must say that London was a tough nut to crack. I remember vividly at the height of my teen idol phase walking the streets of London in the midday sun and it was crickets.  They were very slow to the party and I remember my 21-year old ego thinking what’s going on here? I was used to walking down the street having my clothes ripped off. I walked in London in anonymity.”

Really? No one ripped his clothes off?

“Well…..Well I have to go now.”

As he strides out through the Polo Lounge, every head turns to watch him and I’m sure he won’t walk in London in anonymity again.

Rob Lowe Stories I Only Tell My Friends – Royal Festival Hall. December 1, 19:30

Barbra Streisand (Weekend, November 24, 2018)



Barbra Streisand at 76 has come up with an album of songs that she wrote as a protest against President Trump and his regime. It’s her first album of original songs for over a decade. The songs could be love songs although the album Walls is a mixture of love and anger.

She’s wearing slinky black flares, black suede boots, a black fluffy jumper and a vintage lace collar. Around her neck is a beautiful miniature of her now departed dog Sammy, a Coton du Tolear. The white curly fluffy dog went with her to every interview, every concert and recording session.

Streisand mourned her passing “as if it was a child.” Sammy had an “oddball personality,” so it could have been her actually genetic child. She identified with her intensely. So much so that two of her new dogs Miss Scarlet and Miss Violet are clones of Sammy and a third, Fanny is a distant cousin.

We meet in a studio just across the road from her house in Malibu – the one with the rose gardens and her collection of dolls houses. The dogs didn’t join us. “Because there are three of them and they would take over. The two dogs are made from Sammy. They’re her DNA. They are clones. This is the technique – how they make clones which is used in cancer research. The pet fund wrote me a letter that said thank you for doing this. Cancer is very prevalent and growing in both cats and dogs because of the pet food industry, the pesticides etc… Nobody had to die to make a clone. They took a cell from the inside of Sammy’s cheek and another from the outside of her tummy right before she died. You don’t know if you’re going to get a dog. You can get none, you can get five and I got two.”

Presumably she went via the clone route because she loved Sammy so much she wanted to replicate her so are the puppies like her?

“Not in personality but they look just like her. They’re curly haired like her. The breeder told me she was a rarity because she was a runt. If these dogs are for shows they have straight hair.  Sammy was at my last show in New York – it was such a rarity to get a curly haired one so in order to have a curly haired dog I had to clone Sammy.”

It’s easy to conjure the image of Streisand with her tight curly perm in A Star Is Born. Perhaps Sammy reminded her of herself in that. Samantha is now around her neck close to her heart forever. I tell her I have my cat Mr Love’s fur in my locket.

“Uh huh. I have a lock of her hair in my other locket.” It’s a bonding moment. We have both got dead pets round our neck. “It’s unconditional love,” she says “and you know love in sickness and health, curly or straight.

Momentarily she seems vulnerable. You want to reach out to her, hug her even. You feel you know her. You’ve known her songs all your life and her voice has touched you, slipped inside of you so easily. But despite our bonding she bristles as my arm touches her by accident. It goes back to her mother. She wasn’t a hugger and was always very critical, yet somehow despite this she found self-belief and drive. She’s been a star for a lifetime yet still she doesn’t like being photographed. She changes the subject back to the record.

“You’ve heard the album,” she says, eager to talk about it. Every time I meet her I think it’s going to be the last tour, the last show, the last album yet this work feels very fresh. It has a new and different energy to it. You can tell that she’s written a lot of the songs and the ones she hasn’t she sings in a new way.  Her voice is fierce, not thin, not old. It cracks into your heart. Oddly even though it’s not about a man woman love struggle it’s passionate.

“That’s exactly right. That’s what it felt like creating it, that it had a different energy.” She has written or co-written 7 original songs which appear on the album including Walls – that keep you in as well as keep you out.  It’s a plea to unite a divided country. It’s about physical walls and emotional walls.

The single Don’t Lie to Me has the lyrics “How do you win if we all lose?” She sings it like a diva. The truest sense of the word.

She includes the Burt Bacharach classic What the World Needs Now Is Love, originally written as a Vietnam protest song but equally valid if not more so today. The album ends with Happy Days. It’s a song she’s sung often at the end of her concerts and also for the Clintons at President Clinton’s inauguration and as a celebration of democracy. This time it’s sung with an irony so piquant you can feel her tears.

Lady Liberty is about “how they came from different lands, different religions, languages and culture, all seeing the American dream. The subject of immigration is complex and requires deep contemplation not knee jerk reactions. Now if you look at her face you’ll see tears falling from Lady Liberty’s eyes. Love Is Never Wrong is about love being the most powerful force in the universe. It transcends race, religion and sexual orientation – something I’ve always believed everyone has the right to love whoever they want to.  I tell her the record is raw.

“Raw,” she nods. “I’ve never thought of that word for it.” Indeed, you don’t normally associate raw with Streisand. You think smooth or perhaps silky and soaring, definitely comfortable but not this. I tell her when I first heard the album, it was the first time I felt relieved that I wasn’t on Prozac because I was able to feel the full experience.

“Oh!” she says excited now. “Will you say that in the article because that’s very funny? I bet you won’t say that right. But you’re right. Prozac dulls your senses. When my mother was on it she forgot to be angry. She had dementia as well and she forgot that she was always very angry but that pill really helped.”

Maybe it was because of the dementia she forgot to be angry? “No, it was those pills.”

I told her I had a male friend who said he liked me much better on Prozac because I wasn’t angry. I kept on with it longer than I should have. “The guy or the Prozac?” Both.

She was clearly not on Prozac when writing this album because there’s a lot of anger in it. “Oh yes there is. I believe in truth and I believe if I’m truthful in what I’m singing about that comes across as being passionately upset with what is happening to my country.”

Her expression of dissatisfaction with the current president began with a series of very smart Tweets – an eloquent  counterpart to the Trump potty mouth outbursts . Then she wrote articles for The Huffington Post (The Fake President and Our President Cruella de Vil) and then came the songs. They are cleverly written. They work on two levels. Love songs that can be interoperated as personal and protest love songs for the world.

“That’s right, that’s right,” she says excitedly. “I’m so glad you get this.” This is why you let me come back. Because I get it.

“Last time you brought me cake. This time I get nothing. But that’s good. I’m on a diet. It’s good you forgot.” I didn’t forget, I was told that she was trying to diet so I didn’t bring the cake “OK, but this President did make me anxious and hungry for pancakes. Buckwheat pancakes. I had to put butter on them and maple syrup to ease the pain. People don’t realise what food does for you. It makes you feel good. My son brought me pancakes at my last recording session from a great place. They’re made of oatmeal but obviously they have sugar in them and that’s why they taste so good. They’re very soothing to the brain.”

Pancakes are very American. It was as if she was eating the most delicious, the most American food to savour it, as if it too was in jeopardy.

“I live in a house that’s filled with Americana. American art, American furniture. I really love my country and it’s painful to see democracy being assaulted, institutions being assaulted and women being assaulted.”

We digress to the painful topic of women’s abortion rights and the possibility of women no longer being in control of their own bodies and having the long fought (in the early 70s) right to choose.

“Can you imagine…?” she says darkly and then, “There’s a war between people who want to live in the future and look forward to the future and people who want to live in the past. Imagine women who after forty-something years who have had the right to choose, now, perhaps won’t.”

President Trump was elected by a small majority but women certainly voted for him.  Why would women vote for a man who does not let them control their own bodies?  Why would women vote for misogyny?

“It’s a terribly complex thing. A lot of women vote the way their husbands vote. They don’t believe enough in their own thoughts so they trust their husbands. Maybe that woman who is so articulate, so experienced and so presidential (Hillary), so fit for the presidency, was too intimidating for some women. Perhaps she made women feel unsuccessful. Women are competitive and so forth. All of this was so devastating to me and I was heartbroken and very sad so I wanted to write about it, sing about it and deliver an album and it was perfect timing (as synagogues are being blown up and bombs delivered to any luminary who has had something bad to say about President Trump). I just did it.”

I’m not sure she realizes how brave it is to stand up and stand out and I wonder if she ever wanted to take it further – to be that woman who was articulate and presidential and could talk passionately and open people’s eyes. Surely there’s a situation vacant in the Democratic party that she may want to fill?

“No. I don’t want to go into politics. I don’t think I’m articulate enough and it’s too late for me. Maybe when I was younger but not now. I like my garden too much. I like staying home. I like privacy. I like writing my book…sort of.”

She’s still writing that autobiography? “Yeah, four years already. I’m trying to convince the publisher to do it in two volumes so I could stop the first volume with my Harvard speech.” She is very proud of this speech. “It was in a book called The 100 Greatest Speeches of the 20th Century. But they edited it without showing me and that was not nice. I like manners. People in England have manners. They are always very nice to me.”

Streisand comes across as a woman of power, a woman unafraid of being criticised because she’s in control. A woman that feels being seen as controlling isn’t a negative attribute. It’s been an interesting journey to get to that point.

In 1976, as producer and lead actress of A Star Is Born she had final cut of the movie.  The ultimate control which is very rare and much sort after but she gave her power away. She cut out some of her own scenes because she didn’t want to be criticised for being a producer and having too much screen time. Why? She shakes her head.

“I love constructive criticism. It helps me learn something but I didn’t want to be … just criticised. “    Maybe this is a deep seated fear locked in by her super critical mother. There is anxiety in her eyes as she talks.

“A woman writer in the New York times criticised when I performed at the Clinton’s inauguration.  She attacked my suit. It was a man’s suit and I wore great diamonds with it and a waistcoat. I like the combination of masculinity and femininity. I liked the feminisation of masculinity.  I’m fascinated even in furniture, I like strong architectural lines covered in pink velvet. I like men who are masculine but have a feminine side. I like men who cry at movies and they like soft things. It just makes them complex and that’s interesting. So this woman criticised my suit with diamonds. This woman was talking about my sexuality because I was wearing a low cut vest and the legs of the trousers had a slit. I have a passion for design and that criticism was unfair.

It always seems to me unfair that she was never acknowledged as a beauty. Today she has a mesmerizing presence and her skin glows and not in an artificial way.  She doesnt look fake. She has a lioness quality.

In the mid seventies people in Hollywood weren’t used to a woman being in control. She was producing ASIB for First Artists – a company originally set up for Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier and herself. In exchange for no salary up front they could make their own film with full creative control and a piece of the back end which they only got if the film was a hit. Her budget was $6,000,000 and any penny spent over that had to come out of her own pocket.

“I was completely responsible for the money and the content.”

She updated the film from the Judy garland original (1954) to reflect the changing of the times.

“I wanted her to write her own songs. I wanted the character played by a liberated woman yet I gave away the title of producer and took a lessor one and I even cut out certain scenes of mine so I would have less screen time.”

Instead of being praised, she was vilified.

“I was put on a magazine cover bald and the title was ‘A Star Is Shorn’ They made me bald. Why? Because I was a woman in control and they wanted…” her voice trails. They wanted her to look horrible. “That’s right. So I got scared and I gave them power. But when I directed Yentl I had power artistically but I had a completion bond on my shoulder so I couldn’t go overbudget. I went only a tiny bit overbudget which was fine. I got an award for directing and I said it’s wonderful not to have to raise your voice because people are finally listening when you are the director. So… I’m going to direct another film and I won’t give power away in the way I did earlier.

“ When I’m directing I do give power away to make people feel they’re needed. I would make sure my understudy felt involved. ‘Why don’t you work with the cinematographer while I’m working on the script. Why don’t you measure distances for the lens and show me what marks I need to hit.’ In other words, empowering people. I want everybody to feel needed on the set.

“I enjoy working in England, perhaps because you have a Queen and you have a woman Prime Minister. I think they are less intimidated by a woman with power.”

Perhaps that just because she doesn’t live in England.

Is she acting as well as directing in the new movie?

“I can’t really talk about it. We’ve signed contracts but until I know more… I can tell you I’m not acting. I don’t like acting. I don’t like make believe. I like real life.”

That’s a shame. She’s so good at it. “I’m crap at it.” It always surprises me when she’s self-deprecating. Its part of what makes her an icon. The ability to take herself seriously and not seriously at all

The Way We Were still moves me – the ultimate impossible love story – she as the archetypal jew and Robert Redford as the archetypal WASP. It won her an Oscar nomination. She’s always played characters who had an uneasy vulnerability – you don’t expect that of her in real life. You do expect that she is a fighter, a campaigner for love, for truth, for dogs.

Its easy to feel powerless – that’s why she’s so compelled now to stand up to Trump – to grab back the power.

I just saw the new version of A Star Is Born. Whether it’s better  than the previous version, divides the nation. Did she think Lady Gaga was channelling herself in some parts?

“I don’t know. Did she say anything about that? I haven’t seen it but I know they used the nose thing.”

The original movie, written by Joan Didion, made a reference to Streisand’s nose. At the time she was considered kooky looking, a prominent noise was not seen as a bonafide glamour-puss movie star nose. In the Gaga/Bradley Cooper version they overplay the nose with several references to Gaga’s nose and a lot of nose shots. At the time Streisand’s nose was considered not beautiful and she had to fight to keep it untouched in movies, on record covers and refused any nose jobs in real life.  Gaga is not known for her nose but none the less the movie makes a big deal of it.

Streisand shrugs. “I haven’t seen the whole movie but I saw the beginning and it looked like mine. Bradley (Cooper) showed me that and the beginning started with the same concert and then singing in a little club.”

I note the new A Star Is Born has the same producer as her version – Jon Peters – her hairdresser who became her boyfriend and thereafter a big deal producer – with her help. Perhaps that’s why there are some of the same nuances. Because of the same producer.

“Well he was the one I gave the credit to.” Does she mean gave her power away to. “That’s right.” Because he was her boyfriend too?

“Because I wanted him to have respect on the set. He had good ideas. The first time I walked into his house he had crude burnt wood frames paired with lace curtains at the windows. He understood masculinity and femininity. He was complex. I liked that.”

I am sure she still likes Jon Peters although she does not like being reminded that she gave her power away to a man because she feared criticism for being overbearing.

It’s a complex thing, she likes strong men but not bowing down to them . She has the right balance with her husband of 20 years James Brolin

“My husband has the perfect forehead, the perfect jaw, the perfect teeth. Even when he makes me angry I still get a kick out of his symmetry”

She is also immensely loyal – she has had the same manager – Marty Erlichman for 52 years.

Someone else who works with her is waving their hands in a panic. “I have to get out. I have to go.” One more thing. “What?” she says suspiciously. A picture. Streisand has famously and repeatedly said no to impromptu pictures.  She’s still afraid of a bad shot, of criticism? She says -she’s going to do it.

It takes bravery and a little bit of control. “I’ll do it but not with your phone. With mine so I can have power to delete.” She directs the way we’re sitting, tells the assistant with the phone, “you’re going down too low.” I move closer to her, so close I’m almost touching her but of course we’re not going to touch. I feel that’s making her uncomfortable.

Her hair sweeps long beyond her shoulders. It’s beigey blonde the colour of a lions mane. It even mingles with mine. I can smell her hair. It smells of roses, perhaps from her own garden. It’s a heady smell.  She makes me promise that I won’t put the picture in the paper and before she goes I read her a message from my friend Nancy who grew up with a criticising mother, like Streisand’s, and wanted me to let her know, “She’s helped me throughout my life. She’s my secret mother. I love her. I love the way she sings with skill and abandon. I love what she’s doing today. It shows the spirit of women and it shows that I was right to love her. No one else is sticking their neck out politically and she’s on the right side of history.”

She’s taken the picture and she’s taken the compliment and she likes it very much that she’s on the right side of history.

Denzel Washington (The London Sunday Times Magazine, August 12, 2018)

I order a Lyft car to go to the screening of Denzel Washington’s  The Equaliser 2 in Century City Los Angeles. Traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard is murderous and I’m agitated.
“Perhaps you can get to a later show,” says Grace the Lyft driver. No, I say puffing up. It’s a special screening because I’m interviewing Denzel Washington tomorrow. “Oh,” she says. “You’ll like him. His son and my son used to play basketball together. They’re friends. Denzel is a good man, family man. Gave lots of money to the school.”
I decide to run in heels the rest of the way to make the screening and in the opening sequence I learn that Denzel’s character Robert McCall is an undercover Lyft driver. He’s also an avenging angel who rights wrongs violently and proficiently before anyone even asks. He is a dark force for good and he does a lot of his research while driving his Lyft. That’ll teach me to dismiss Grace.
The  Equaliser 2 is the first sequel of Washington’s career which has spanned 2 Oscars, 3 Globes and 1 Tony. Although the next day when we meet he’ll shrug and say, ‘Well, nobody ever asked me to do anything twice,” I think it’s because he doesn’t want to admit he’s close to this character and that’s why he was able to so effortlessly revive it.
Also, there’s something perfect for the times that a powerful dark angel exists, a guy who can correct everything that goes wrong with brutality yes because you feel those wrongs. You root for him. It’s cathartic to watch.  The fight scenes are powerful, fast, shocking. Washington himself has spent years in boxing training ever since he played Rubin Carter in the 1999 film The Hurricane.
I’m in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel. I hear him before he comes into the room. He’s got a great laugh – large, infectious and loud. And an even larger presence. He’s 6 foot 1 but seems taller in a black suit and black tee.
Washington likes to banter, to distract. He asks questions about the wallpaper with the utmost curiosity. He doesn’t enjoy questions about himself which is odd for an actor, although there’s nothing about him that’s “Hollywood”.
He grew up in Mount Vernon, New York. An odd buffer between the city and the rich Connecticut suburbs. It was mostly middle class. His father was a preacher who worked for the local water company by day and his mother owned beauty salons. They divorced when he was 14. His mother ruled him with tough love and tried to protect him from the bad boys.
He went to college to study medicine, changed to political science, also considered law and journalism and ended up in a job where he could investigate all of these professions. He started off in the theatre honing his craft and, in many ways, feels that’s where he most belongs. He has revived A Raisin In The Sun and The Iceman Cometh on Broadway as well as Julius Caesar.  He’ll stare at you but if you stare back he’ll look away.
We’ve met a few times before and he wants to know what city is my home. I ask is LA anyone’s home? He muses, “I used to tell people who would say oh you live in Hollywood. There’s no place called Hollywood. Hollywood Boulevard has some little stars that people walk by and look at.”
Does he have a star? “Do I?” he tries to recall. “No, I don’t, but I have hand and footprints.  “Why don’t I have a star?” he wonders.
I tell him that I loved The Equaliser 2 which I did. “Oh good,” he says, suddenly staring at the large TV screen that’s in the room. He absolutely cannot take compliments and when I call him out on that he says, “Do I look like I didn’t believe you?” No, you look like you can never take a compliment. He concedes, “No, I’m not good. But enough about me.”
We laugh but that’s really as he prefers it. An interview that’s not about him. Then he comes back to my Lyft driver and works out that it is his younger son Malcolm, 27 who’s twins with actress daughter Olivia, who played basketball a decade ago, although he won’t admit what he donated to the school or what basketball team he gave money to as Grace said he wouldn’t.
He’s been married to Pauletta for 35 years by film industry standards, even if there was a lot of partying that’s rock solid. His older son John David, 33 started as a football player but got his big time break in HBO’s Ballers and is upcoming in Spike Lee’s movieBlacKkKlansman. His eldest daughter Katia 30 is a producer. She worked on her father’s movie Fences and  Django Unchained.  In all they’re a super successful family, revered by people like my Lyft driver for their unity and kindness but I were ever dare to say he’s a role model he would hate it more than he would hate being given a compliment. Partly because being a role model is a compliment, partly because although he’s very aware of the platform he has as a famous actor and a famous black actor, he never takes advantage of it. That’s just him.
He started off his career where people thought he was a goody two shoes having total swallowed his bad boy past. That’s why I think he’s especially linked to this avenging angel character, McCall.
“No,” he dismisses. “You just want to make something good that people will enjoy. We had great success the first time around and when people say hey let’s do this again, why not?”
Equaliser 2 is better than Equaliser 1 I tell him. “I’ve been hearing that but why? Is it because now you know the guy or is it because it’s more personal?” All of that and it’s actually more emotional. You invest in his relationship with his best friend – Susan played by Melissa Leo and you invest in the father/son quality of the relationship he has with Ashton Sanders’ character.
Sanders shone in the Oscar winning Moonlight. He’s the kind of actor whose silence fills the screen with something deep.
In this movie Sanders is a teenager on the brink. He can go to art school or he can join a gang. In real life Sanders is an artist as well as an actor.
“Some of the drawings may have been his. He’s very talented and he’s in a unique place with all the success he’s had right off the blocks. He’s a good dude. I wish him well. He’s got his head screwed on right.”
When I last met Washington, almost a year ago, he was very solid with Sanders and industry people told me he was mentoring him. Washington didn’t like that word but clearly he identified with him.
“I’ve been where he’s going. He asks me questions because things are changing for him. His friends are changing.  I have been down that road.”
I wonder if Washington saw in Sanders his own youth? He and his three best friends were all in a band. The others did not fare well. One died through drug related AIDS and at least two of the others spent many years in jail. One of them at least I know Washington helped out by buying him new teeth and there’s always the thought it could have been him had his mother not tough loved him right out of that bad boy set.
Was that the bond? “It was a natural thing. We were spending all this time together and between takes we were talking.”
On screen they looked as if they were extremely close but they’re actors. “I think you can tell when it’s not genuine. At least I can.”
In the movie Sanders character is poised to join the gang with the bad boys and Washington’s character saves him from that. Art reflecting life. It is remarkable of four friends, three are in jail or dead and the other is a full on movie star, reportedly worth $220 million. That’s why the scenes with Sanders are so impactful. How things could have gone.
“It just shows you, in my case growing up I had someone who really cared about me and was willing to make sacrifices to see me succeed and my character takes on that role. In my case it was my own mother but he didn’t have that. He had no example of what it was to be a man.”
And he thought it was all about being a gangster. Washington nods slowly. This is sensitive, empathic Washington. You don’t see him for long and he refers it back to the movie.
“There’s this shot when I look down on him and the guys come and pick him up. That’s how it happens. You know, a kid is isolated alone and trying to fit in and here come the guys. ‘Come with us where the fun is’.”
Washington has always found the fun in being serious or in straight up laughing at me. Laughing at my rambling questions, laughing at my attempts of accents but it’s not a cruel laugh, more playful and curious.
In The Equaliser Robert McCall likes to read books. Washington replaced what was in the script with a book called Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
It’s a book written to the author’s teenage son about the feelings, symbolism and realities about growing up black in America. It discusses the racist violence that has been embedded into the American culture and this is the book that Washington chooses to give Sanders character. It’s not obvious. It never is. But this is as close as Washington gets to using his powerful platform as an African American.
Washington likes detail. He’s not a natural preacher like his father although he could be a wonderful preacher. He is partial to an intriguing Bible quote and he himself once went to church with his mother and had the experience of speaking in tongues.
He says he met author Ta-Nehisi Coates randomly and then became intrigued. “I thought, that’s what our story is about – coming of age. My character in the movie reads books anyway so I thought this is a good book to give the kid.”
Because it’s about growing up as an African American? It’s about being black?
“Was there a question in there?” Well I’m just checking in which way the book relates as I haven’t actually read it. “Oh…ok,” says Washington, still not really wanting to go there. It’s not an ugly pause or a silent one. He doesn’t knock any questions back without laughing. In fact, he chortles quite a lot.
He recently did a very funny interview on the Jimmy Kimmel show talking about how he saved the Oscars in 2016. The Oscars he saved were the notorious wrong envelope Oscars where Kimmel was hosting and was mystified when Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty read out La La Land for Best Picture and there seemed to be something wrong. Washington looked at Kimmel and gestured to him to get Barry Jenkins the director of Moonlight.
“I saved the Oscars. I didn’t win one. I must have been up for one because I was right down at the front.” He was absolutely up for Best Actor and Best Picture for Fences. He directed Fences adapted from the stage by August Wilson.
His first Oscar nomination came for freedom fighter Steve Bilko in Cry Freedom (1988) and then for political martyr Malcolm X in 1993. His first win was for Training Day in 2002 although I think he should have won in 2000 for The Hurricane and 2013 for Flight.
These days he likes to mix up his film work with some directing and the stage where he started off has become increasingly important to him. He’s just finished a couple of month’s run of The Iceman Cometh on Broadway.
He likes to add personal details to scripts such as in this year’s Roman Israel he added the concept of his characters love of peanut butter. In The Equaliser he walks into a room and knows who’s there because of the smell. Asparagus tips and soy sauce and a specific ladies perfume. That was not in the script. It was from Washington because that’s what he does. Smells out the room before seeing it.
“You don’t mean me personally? You mean the character.” I meant both.
Today I looked up the definition of Denzel. “It means a fortress, right?” No actually. It’s a small town in Cornwall, England.
“Really?” he says, disappointed. He was much happier with being a fortress. “I feel like now I’m a little hut on the side of the road and in my mind, I was a fortress.”
Antoine Fuqua the director said that Washington and his Robert McCall character were alike because they like to do good and they didn’t want to be seen doing good. Is that so? Another quizzical look.
Fuqua directed him in Training Day, Magnificent Seven and both Equalisers. Fuqua went on to say, “Denzel wouldn’t want me to talk about it, because he doesn’t want to take credit for it, but he does a lot for people. He taught me something he learned from Nelson Mandela: a shepherd leads from behind – not from the front.  He takes that idea and quietly helps people along the way.  I think that was important to him to express in Robert McCall.”

Washington corrects. “A leader like a shepherd, sends the fast, nimble sheep out in front so that the rest will follow, not realising they are all being led from behind. A good shepherd doesn’t lead from the front. That’s from Nelson Mandela but I don’t know where he got it from.”
We discuss Mandela’s possible career as a shepherd and the qualities of his leadership and Washington is quick to correct, “But I don’t want to assume I’m a leader.”
I always assume he’s a leader. “Thank you. But a leader of what?” Of course, there are so many ways in which he could be a leader but he doesn’t want to assume any of them.
Instead he tells a Biblical story about pigs being led off the edge of a cliff. “You’ve got to watch who you’re following.”
He took a decision on his 60th birthday (he’s now 63) to give up alcohol for what he calls his fourth quarter. “Moderation is the key. If you drink too much water you’ll drown. I’m not drinking alcohol.”
Has it changed his perspective? “On life? I hope so. I’ll put it this way. When you’re toasted you need a day to recover. You get a hangover. So that’s two days out of your life. I don’t have time to waste. Let’s say there’s 365 days in a year so in 10 years that’s 3650, so how many days do you want to waste?”
Does he still have dream roles? Something he would look forward to or any projects he wants to direct?
“I want to get back to doing some Shakespeare off the top of my head and plays by great writers. Be able to interpret August Wilson, Eugene O’Neill and William Shakespeare. That’s what I’ve been doing the last few years – acting in movies, acting in the theatre, directing movies so those three. That’s plenty.
On most days he boxes. You can tell because of the way he spars onscreen. Very nimble. Listening to music is also a big part of his day.
“When I was on Broadway I’d stay up half the night because I didn’t get home till 11.30 and I wouldn’t sleep till 3 or 4. My character doesn’t go on for the first 50 minutes so as soon as the play would start I would turn off the sound and start playing music.”
If his Equaliser character had a theme tune what would it be? “He’d stay away from certain music because it would bring him too many memories. He doesn’t want to open up to those emotional things.”
And just in case I was going to ask what Washington’s theme tune would be, he pre-empts me with, “Isn’t this a big TV? My TV at home is smaller than this TV but my room is bigger.”
I don’t have a TV. I watch everything on my MacBook. “Really?” he says incredulous. Yeah, because if a TV dominates the room it’s too distracting. “That’s a good point. You go to dinner and look what happens. Everyone’s sitting around a table like this.” He mimes texting.
Is that because you know the people you’re having dinner with so well you feel comfortable with them or you’re trying to avoid them? He laughs. “You’re speaking from experience and you’ve been on both sides,” he says knowingly and then checks his pockets.
“I don’t even know where my phone IS!”
On a recent red carpet, he said of fake news, “If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper you are misinformed. That quote is a hundred years old. Interesting, isn’t it? There’s fake news about me every week. I’ve died or something. Fake news doesn’t even have to be first anymore. It’s just got to be sensational.”
No wonder he’s wary of a newspaper interview.
Does he think that the film industry has changed in the post Weinstein era? “I hope so. I think there are just more rules in place. Time will tell on this one but it’s good right now.”
His daughter Olivia is an actress just starting out, honing her craft.  Does he feel that she is safeguarded as a young woman in the industry?
“Yes, plus I will break somebody’s back if they mess around with my daughter. Let that be the message to put out there. Their back will be broken.”
And all this from the man who says he is not an avenging angel.

Jeff Goldbum (The London Sunday Times Magazine, August 5, 2018)

Jeff Goldblum and Chrissy Iley
Jeff Goldblum and Chrissy Iley

We are in a small, dark supper club – The Rockwell. We are in a bohemian district of Los Angeles.  Packed to the rafters. The waiter  warns the food will take a while. But no one’s here for the food. They are here for Jeff Goldblum, to hear him play jazz piano with a curious charm.  Soon his be-ringed fingers will flash and sparkle across the keyboards.
Everybody loves Jeff. I’m not sure if that was always the case but somehow, rather stealthily he’s now Hollywood royalty. Not just for reprising roles as Ian Malcolm, the scientist in the Jurassic movies, for blockbusters like Thor and Independence Day. Not just for turning in so many expertly quirky roles including his recent gangster chief in Hotel Artemis. Not just for his iconic and still quiver making performance in The Fly in 1986. But because he survived it all. He’s 65 and has grown into his face and body. 6 foot 4 ½ no longer seems geeky. He’s sexy in a way that he never used to be.
He comes onstage and he’s so fully himself.  Random friends are texting me messages like ‘he got me through my college years’. I’m not sure what did other than be around and be a constant but he’s still doing it.
He’s in a sharp suit and thick rimmed glasses and snappy hat. He’s his own warm up guy. He plays a game with the audience called The Movie Game. Similar to that one a few years ago Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon where everything led back to him. Any film, any co-star and then it’s a direct Goldblum association.
Then, in manner of Dame Edna, he’ll select audience members, no point in cowering because he’s coming for you. In his game Would You Rather, first up it’s Johnny Depp vs Orlando Bloom. He asks “Chrissy Iley, which one smells better?” As one reviewer said “You haven’t truly heard your name unless you’ve heard Jeff Goldblum say it.” Its a great voice.
Then it’s Nic Cage vs Matthew McConaughey.  I go for Cage and tell the audience about the time McConaughey was getting a haircut and he made the stylist pick up all the hair from the floor in case someone would perform voodoo on it. I think he has researched every person I’ve ever interviewed.
Then the show itself begins. He favours cool jazz from the fifties and sixties. There’s an incredible energy to his playing and his band, the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra all have presence. He’s generous onstage. The audience whoops especially for ‘I Wish I Knew What it Felt to be Free’ which Brits would recognise as the theme tune to Barry Norman’s long running BBC film show.
He’s been doing these shows on and off for quite a few years but Decca Records picked up on his talent when he accompanied Decca artist Gregory Porter – who he met at an airport – on the Graham Norton Show.
The atmosphere at The Rockwell was recreated at Capitol Records with a club set up, Imelda May on guest vocals, Sarah Silverman on Me And My Shadow and a celebrity filled audience for the album recording of his version of Cantaloupe Island, My Baby Just Cares for Me and Straighten Up and Fly Right.
The next day we meet for brunch at the Chateau Marmont. Goldblum is wearing skinny black trousers, a multi coloured knit shirt that looks Italian and a very soft fawn suede jacket.  It’s a hug hello and I can feel it’s a body that he takes care of. He gets up at 5.30 am every day, practices piano and then works out. He became a daddy for the first time in his sixties. He now has two little boys, River Joe who’s one and Charlie Ocean who’s three with his wife Emilie Livingstone (35), a former Canadian Olympian gymnast.
He invites me to smell his neck so that at some future point I can compare his scent to Depp, Bloom etc. He smells of dark flowers. “Ah yes, the title of my first autobiography – Dark Flower.” He’s joking, of course. We agree it would be a good title. There is something dark about him but something deliciously floral.

Jeff Goldblum rocks Chrissy Iley's shades
Jeff Goldblum rocks Chrissy Iley’s shades

I’m wearing my wide, dark rimmed sunglasses so we match. We swap glasses for a quick photo op.

Jeff Goldblum's Jewelry
Jeff Goldblum’s Jewelry

He’s wearing more jewellery than me. A classic Tank Cartier watch and quirky gold and silver rings on every finger. His wedding band is platinum with rose gold on the inside and his wife Emily had put on an engraving ‘Patches plus Peaches eternal love.’
Who’s Patches and who’s Peaches? “She’s Peaches because she’s quite peachy and my first nightmare which I recalled to her was about a witch trying to tie me down on a tree stump. I was four or five years old and instead of cutting my head off she said ‘Peeeaaches, Peeeaaches.’ I told my two older brothers that dream. We all shared a room and when we went to bed at night they would all go ‘Peeeaaaches’ and scare me.’ He mimics a gurgling witchy tone.
“She is Peachy and she is Peaches and I have a nice distribution of hair on my torso but on one side, right here there’s a little bit of extra. It’s a patch so I’m Patches.”
Isn’t Patch a dog’s name? “I AM a dog!” he says enthusiastically. “I LOVE dogs.”
He was in the Wes Anderson animated movie Isle of Dogs where he was the voice of Duke.  He has a dog, a red poodle called Woody Allen. “Officially the term is apricot but Woody is darker and redder.”
Did he name his dog Woody Allen because he admires his namesake as a director or as a clarinettist? “It’s either or both”.
The names of his boys Charlie Ocean and River Joe “were not just tossed up.
I spent years before I had kids fantasising about what their names would be. What would go with Goldblum?”
Charlie had dark feelings about the introduction of his younger brother so we keep them safe and say you can hit the floor. You do not have to suppress your feelings. You can say you don’t like him but you can’t hurt him. And now there are many moments of friendship and sweetness. They bathe together and Charlie helps and protects his younger brother. River always wants to know what his brother is doing. He’s just started to walk. He’s a bit wobbly but he follows Charlie around.”
Goldblum too was a younger brother. One brother four years older (Rick who died at the age of 23 from kidney failure), the other (check name) five years older went into real estate. He also has a younger sister Pamela who is an actor and artist.
At the moment his wife and children are in Toronto with their mother and grandmother and last night Goldblum slept only with Woody. “He sleeps with us anyway. Last night it was just us and we are very close.”
Now we look at pictures on each others phones. I am showing him cat pictures, he is showing me dogs and babies. It’s almost like there’s no barrier and there’s instant intimacy, or maybe it just seems that way.  Maybe it’s all part of the smart illusion.
Actually No – he’s an insatiably curious person about all sorts of things . Where do I live? What do I like? Who am I? And I ask if this is a distraction technique just so we don’t talk have to talk about him. “No,” he says, a little abashed and refers me to his acting teacher Sandy Meisner who instructed him that the best performance was always about chemistry with other people and although this is not quite a performance it’s an exchange of sorts and I see him feeling around for the correct level and pitch of the interview. “He said you have to be interested otherwise you’re not interesting.”
Did everyone always love Jeff and how exactly did he help my friend through her teenage years? “Ah yes. I show up and sense somebody on this block having a difficult teenage time and I get them through,” he jokes, bemused at his sudden superhero status. In fact it’s taken a while for him to arrive even though his breakthrough performance was possibly in The Big Chill over 30 years ago.
There was a brief first marriage to Patricia Gaul 1980-86, The Fly co-star Geena Davis 87-90 and a brief engagement to Laura Dern but essentially over two decades as single man. When we tried to play the Would You Rather game at brunch I tell him I can’t throw female stars at him because I don’t know if he’s slept with them or not. “Well there’s that but I think it’s nicer these days in that setting to stick with men. I’m hypersensitive to the challenges of womanhood.”
Has he had experiences of female co-stars crying about having to touch the white bathrobe? “No. I was never reported to about Harvey Weinstein. I never worked with him but if you watch something like Mad Men and you have grown up in that culture you can imagine what women have been subjected to. I have had frank discussions and heard women’s stories. Who doesn’t have a story of some discomfort or even some kind of traumatic circumstance and women all over the world still need to fight and we need to fight it with them for equality and dignity.”
Indeed, Goldblum is a “nice fella”. His comedy skirts the edges of discomfort but never humiliation. He likes the idea that he’s very available. “I’m not trying too hard you know. I like the idea that I’m offering something of interest and amusement. I do it to set up the music. As a performer it’s all about a shared experience. I feel I’m hosting a show. It’s kind of like a sixties one – Playboy After Dark. Hugh Hefner early on had a TV show. When I was a kid I used to go to a special part of the dial to find it because it was at that point one of the only portals into adult sensuality. It was called After Dark and the conceit was you’re in some kind of living room, a salon and there’s talk and there’s music. He was in a smoking jacket and had couches in different areas. Ostensibly it was a party and there was a piano.”
The album has a living room party vibe about it. It immediately places you right there. It was produced by Larry Klein who is famous for producing Herbie Hancock, Tracy Chapman and Joni Mitchell.
Did he imagine that he’d ever have a jazz album? “As a kid I would write on the shower wall please God let me be an actor. I think around eight or ten something happened in middle school where I went to this camp and fell deeply in love with performing. I was baying at the moon about it.”
Was he always a person who fitted in or stood out? “Early on when I was a kid I fitted in to our little family. I developed into my own individual person and then through junior high school and high school I was a fish out of water. I didn’t fit in with some groups until I found the arts programmes in that camp. That in one way or another saved my life.”
Now he’s able to fit in and stand out.
“I had piano lessons from eight years old and studied but I didn’t study acting.
My parents both liked music, my dad particularly. If we went on vacation to Miami they would do the Mambo. They took dance lessons in the Cha Cha Cha. You can imagine that era. They also had a taste for jazz and Errol Garner. He was a famous (jazz) pianist from Pittsburgh and they would bring records home and play on the HiFi. He really is kind of wonderful so I was exposed to that kind of music early on. That’s how I got interested in jazz. When I was 15, I went into a room and locked the door because I felt it needed to be secret and I looked through the Yellow Pages and would call one club after another saying ‘hey, I understand you’re looking for a piano player.’ Most people would say no but a couple said, ‘How did you hear about this? Come down and play.’
So I got a couple of jobs when I was fifteen. My parents would drive me to them and somehow I met a girl singer who was older and could drive and I would play for her. It was never that I was trying to be a musician. It just happened. Even with this record. It just happened. I’m not saying it’s going to be my new career.”
And this career wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t met Gregory Porter at an airport. “A few years ago I went up to him and said Mr Porter? I love your music. And then I was going to be on the Graham Norton show a few months ago and the musical guest was Gregory Porter promoting his Nat King Cole album so I offered to play the song with him. That’s how his record company Decca got the idea and here we are.”
We’ve yet to order as we’ve been talking thick and strong. He seems very in the moment but says, “I am nothing if not disciplined. I have a conviction about work ethic. When I was a kid I didn’t know about the joys of getting homework done but after that I couldn’t help but practise my piano and now I have to tear myself away. We’ve been playing for about 20 years and it just developed under the radar.  At first I wasn’t as good as I am now but I made sure I played so I could develop and memorise everything that we were playing. I would go through them most days even if I was on the road I would talk to the concierge in a hotel, find a music store down the road or play the piano in the lobby.”
So people in the lobby of a random hotel would find him giving an impromptu performance. “Yes I like to play with people around.”
Finally we get to order brunch. He wants scrambled eggs but it’s not on the menu. He doesn’t power order or suggest that most kitchens have eggs.  He goes for ancient grain bowl from the menu. He likes to eat clean.  “I get up at 5.30, do my piano and my workout first. I like to get eight hours sleep so it means going to bed at about 9.30.”
He now has a gym in his house where he and his wife workout. Emilie was a rhythmic gymnast. “Those are the dance gymnasts. They do all the hyperstretch contortions. She was the Pan American champion when she was young and she studied in Russia from 11 to 16. She’s now learnt Cirque du Soleil aerial stuff.  She doubled for Emma Stone in La La Land. She was the dancer whose body you see dancing outside the Planetarium. And that movie Valerian, Rihanna plays a part in it and every time you see her face it’s Emilie’s body who’s dancing. We met at the gym. I saw her working out and toddled over and said well you’re not the usual…”
That was his pick-up line? He stalked her in the gym? “It wasn’t a pick-up line. I was interested in what she was doing. I have no lines and formula but I did start up a conversation. It was Equinox on Sunset and that was seven years ago. I went to see her perform and then invited her to a gig. I said I wonder if she’s going to do some contortion dancing on the piano. I said to the guys we should do the song from Fabulous Baker Boys Makin’ Whoopee, the one that Michelle Pfeiffer sings. He sings “Another bride, another groom
Another sunny honeymoon
Another season, another reason
For makin’ whoopee”
And she got on the piano and she did an amazing routine. We got the dog first. We were talking about children. She introduced it,” he says with a proud daddy smile.
Everyone must have said how strange it was that he got to sixty and wanted children. “Yes, right. I had to think about that and I’m still thinking about what it all means and trying to navigate the calendar and my gift of living every day. But when she said maybe it would be nice to have a baby it was so sweet and deeply genuine. I said if you’re serious we should talk about it. I had a therapist at the time who I took her to see. Luanda Katzman – we began having several sessions over a period of time where we excavated considerations and finally we both got enthusiastic about having a child and getting married. We got married here – in the Chateau Marmont in one of the bungalows with fifty people – mostly her family.   We had already started to try to get pregnant and the day before the wedding she presented me with a sonogram saying ‘Look what happened’, so it made the wedding sweet and romantic.
I was a bachelorly kind guy of in the way I never had food in the house. The first time she opened my refrigerator I had a bottle of water and some Chinese takeout. Now it’s a family fridge with abundance all over. It’s great.”
He never wanted to have children before? “Not seriously even though I’ve been married before.”
Then he was alone for a long time. Was that on purpose or coincidence? “I never plotted it that way. There was no strategy but at this point it all seems to have been necessary and perfect, including the not having children.”
Because he wasn’t ready? “I think that may have been part of it, yes. Exactly.”
He wants to know if I can sing.  Maybe we could do a performance together.  I don’t tell him my story about when I blew Bryan Ferry off stage because my version of Jealous Guy was so much better. I just tell him no I can’t sing.
He suggests that maybe we could do poetry readings together. He once read the whole of Wuthering Heights out loud to someone. “Yes I’ve always loved Wuthering Heights and I was so touched by it I wanted to read the book to somebody. I have often read books out aloud and I’m about to do it professionally for the first time. My friend Norm Eisen who is the US Ambassador to the Czech Republic has written a very interesting book about working for Obama. He is a very wise and wonderful guy. I met him via Wes Anderson when we were doing Grand Budapest Hotel. He said ‘we have a guy who is a model for your character.’ So I went to Prague and he let me stay in the Ambassadors Palace and we’ve been in touch ever since.”
He loves food. Nothing fried or saucy. It’s part of the plan to stay healthy, not for getting good roles but for the role of daddy.
Does he think he’s going to go for a girl child? “I’d love a little girl. The other week Emilie said ‘gee I’d like to see you with a girl but I don’t think she really wants it. I think she’s happy to stop with these two.”
Perhaps he has a girl out there already who’s 25. “Not that I know of. I’ve been pretty good. If I could talk to my young self it would be to expose my young self to many lessons that I have come by gradually. I’ve not always been good. I’m still trying to learn about health and relationships and hygiene and how it keeps revealing itself to me in many more refined ways. It’s good that life happens the way it does really. You don’t get a view and no one can tell the future and it’s all a surprise.  I’m amazed and pleased at the way things have turned out. Come on, what’s unpleasing?” We make our exit where everyone seems to greet him to say hello/goodbye. I’m not sure if they are fans or friends. He’s all about making the world a happier place and at the same time he’s all about science, astrophysics, astronomy, practical ways to save the oceans.
“Science is pretty inspiring. The extent and size of the universe and the place of our planet in it. We’re fragile. We need to stick together and do right by ourselves.”
He is all about the feel good – and his gift is to make people feel happy when he plays

Jeff Goldblum debut album is out on Decca records

Don Johnson (The London Sunday Times Magazine, June 3, 2018)

I’m sitting at the corner banquette of a restaurant in Studio City, Los Angeles waiting for Don Johnson. It’s a perfectly pleasant, discreet Italian restaurant and I am at the quiet table that I requested.  It was waiting for me along with a basket of rosemary and garlic flatbread and sweet tomato chopped salad on the house. I’d been there about fifteen minutes when his publicist calls me. “Where are you? He’s waiting for you. He’s in the restaurant in a corner table.” 
     I look up, walk round the slightly rustic bar and find him…at another corner table. I beckon him to join me. I’m slightly over animated, nervy, foolish, but he summons me. I must join him. He has the same flatbread but untouched. He doesn’t eat bread, or carbs of any kind, or drink alcohol, although of course he used to. At a certain point in his life he decided simply “it didn’t serve me.”
     I’m still a little nervy. How could we both be sat in the same restaurant and have missed each other. He is unmissable. Charismatic, kingly and still with the same stubble as he sported as Sonny Crocket in Miami Vice, undercover cop who liked to stay out all night and take drugs and never wore socks.  The feet are under the table so I can’t see the socks but there’s a classic striped navy Tee and Bomber jacket and eyes that change colour. We talk about his eyes. Are they blue? Are they green? Are they grey? Are they yellow? He grins, amused.
     His image with the rolled up sleeved Versace jackets and lady loving, marrying Melanie Griffiths when she was 18 and he 23?, divorcing 6 months after and marrying her again 13 years later. His insouciance and shameless sexiness seemed to define the excesses of that era – the eighties. After Miami Vice he had a musical career recording with Barbra Streisand and onstage with Guys and Dolls. There were more TV series like Nash Bridges and some movies that were destined never to be household names. He was always there but not in the same kind of way.  He had a kind of renaissance when he was “rediscovered” by Quentin Tarantino and played Big Daddy in Django Unchained, although he would think he was always there. After that he was the ultimate fringe shirted cowboy in Cold in July and had a successful TV series Blood and Oil.  Last year he channelled a potty mouth Donald Trump character for the TV series Sick Note with Rupert Grint. “Sometimes you’re a big deal and sometimes you’re not,” he shrugs. He’s serene. 
     This week though, once again though he appears to be a big deal in the surprise hit with sexy sixty somethings Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenbergen and Candice Bergen – Book Club. 
     Book Club has been wowing audiences and capturing a new market, so much so that there’s already a sequel planned. Johnson has his own theories on that.
     “We’re exploring a whole new area and there’s more senior dating and senior sex being had than amongst middle aged people. It used to be you got into your sixties and then it was just over but now as people get older they start to realise I’m here in this life. What are the things I’m gonna regret. I don’t think anyone’s going to look back and say I made too much love.” I’m sure he isn’t.
   Book Club is essentially a romantic comedy but it’s not in the way of the dreary Exotic Marigold Hotel with Judi Dench. Those are really old people finding love. These are women with implants, attitude, whose lives are transformed when they rediscover their sexual libido through reading the Fifty Grey of Shades trilogy, which was made into three movies, unleashing to stardom none other than Johnson’s daughter with Griffiths, Dakota Johnson.
     I venture, isn’t that interesting? That movie turned around Dakota’s life and now this movie may turn around yours? He looks at me with cold, don’t go there eyes. All the sweet banter out the window. “Let me stop you right there. If you think this is going to turn into an interview about Fifty Shades and Dakota you may as well save your time.” I yelp. The noise that comes out of me is much more like a Maltese terrier than I’d hoped for but I continue by asking him if by now he’s at least read the book as it’s in his movie?
     “No,” A pause. He has said in the past that he hadn’t read the books or seen the films because it’s not the type of film he would ever go and see. He puts it in the category of Twilight Saga or Vampire Diaries.  
     “Here’s the only thing I’m going to say about that; it’s what we call in the business the McGuffin – the reason for this movie just happens to be that the comedy comes from these ladies who read Fifty Shades of Grey. The movie is about these wonderful women and ultimately it’s a love story.”
     Fortunately his phone rings and he leaves the table to have a brief conversation. By the time he comes back, the initial tension is dissipated and we speak on neutral subjects like how he doesn’t get jet lag. He can outfox it – except for once when he took a melatonin on his way from Los Angeles to London to shoot Sick Note. He says he managed to make his quasi dream state work in his favour to more easily channel “the character of an unconscious egotist and totally self-involved person.”
     And did he love Rupert Grint? “Well I liked him. I don’t know that I love him.” I wonder if Harry Potter movies were also not on his hit list. “What – with six children? You see all of those.” He has three children with his wife of 20 years Kelley Phleger, Jasper, 16, Deacon, 12, and Grace, 18 and Jesse Johnson, 35, from his marriage to Patti D’Urbanville and of course Dakota, 28, from his marriage to Melanie Griffiths.
     He orders the grilled salmon with some green vegetables. It’s not on the menu. Of course it’s not. He says he’s on a Keto like diet. It helps with his clarity. He tells me that the phone call he took was for some humanitarian work he’s doing but he can’t announce it right now. “But it’s with a powerful global organisation that works with the UN. I’ve worked with the UN before in different capacities. I do it on a very undercover level.”
     I tell him he’s an undercover kind of guy. He laughs approvingly. “Not really. I just don’t require special notice for doing something that is intrinsically human – being of service.” He’s very busy right now. “I am. It’s a very rich time.”  
     His character in Book Club is hardcore romantic which is not how we have seen him for a while in his roles. “Yeah, but it’s not a new thing. It’s in my DNA. The role was very naturally organic to me because I have a deep, deep fondness for Jane Fonda. We’ve known each other for a long time. I joined a Peace and Justice group Jane Fonda had founded just so I could be near Jane. I was about 21 at the time and she was a little older (she is 12 years older with possibly the best facelifts in the business). I was smitten the moment I saw her in Barbarella,” he says dreamily.
     Jane Fonda has already said that she specifically requested Johnson for her love interest. In the movie he meets a woman who he was in love with forty years previously and the relationship rekindles. “Art following life or life following art or something. I’m not sure which way round. It’s a dream.”
     He’s big on dreams. Uses their signs, symbols, imagery in the creation of characters. He used to be big on cigarettes until one day he stopped and now he only vapes. He stopped a lot of things and he makes it sound simple.   
     “Everything gets easier when you question whether or not it serves you and if it doesn’t serve you in a way to make you behave in a better way, you’ve got to get rid of it.”
     I stare at my empty bread basket. I suppose the bread didn’t serve me but it was delicious. He laughs and continues. “I have found a way of simplifying my world. I don’t eat sugar or grain. I eat everything else.  I have discovered the key to controlling your moods and your weight and your health is to control your blood sugar. It’s a very efficient fuel for the body.”
     Over the course of our lunch, I learn like most people who were previously addicted to alcohol or sugar and were extreme in any way, find that control is the trade off, their comfort place.
     I’ve always seen him as a dog person. He grew up with dogs and has talked before about his ability to communicate with dogs. He corrects me. “I’m an animal person. When I had my ranch in Colorado I had a virtual petting zoo. Goats, pigs, chickens, donkeys, cows. I grew up on a farm.”
     He grew up on a farm in Missouri so living on a farm was second nature to him.  Did he eat the cows? “No, they were pets.” He got rid of the ranch twelve years ago. Does he miss it? “Oh no. I move on. Once it’s in my rearview mirror I don’t look back. My best friend Hunter Thompson lived a quarter of a mile from me and he died. Glen Frey (of the Eagles) lived there but moved away (then also died) so the charming ski town where I had bought for my ranch suddenly changed. Everything changed but that’s the one thing you know. Change for sure is coming.”
     He had owned the ranch for 25 years and worked with Hunter Thompson on Nash Bridges. In 2013 he resolved a high-profile dispute over monies owed to him by the show’s producers as he successfully claimed half ownership and was awarded around $19 million for his work.  He didn’t get rid of his 12 very fancy cars because he was broke. The cars, Lamborghini’s, Porsches etc were “completely impractical. I realise that I bought a lot of this stuff because I thought I was supposed to have them. I had an image of what you were supposed to do when you were famous and had too much money. All this conspicuous consumption. I just got rid of it all.”
     He’s very zen and I suppose this is how he copes with being a big deal or not. When did he realise he WAS a big deal? “It depends on what you want. You have to be clear about what your intentions are. My intentions were to do something I loved and I just happened to get paid for it. The better you are at doing something the more people notice. Fame is a by-product and a pretty powerful by-product. It takes a long time to get used to. Some people never recover from it.”
     At the height of his Miami Vice fame, they were shooting an outdoor scene and the women in the offices above all threw their underwear out into the street. “That’s a true story. It was very comical to me. I mean I’m still laughing about it. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
     I don’t think I think about fame in that way anymore. I don’t have a massive social media presence. I mean I’m grateful for my followers on Instagram and everything but I don’t feed that machine like a lot of contemporaries. Actually, I shouldn’t say contemporaries because of some of my contemporaries don’t even bother. Jane (Fonda) does – I think that Instagram is in some ways a voice and sometimes it’s ego and I find that unattractive so I don’t have a large commitment to social media.”
     Social media is of course the greatest modern-day addiction and he’s probably filed that in the compartment of things that do not serve him, things to which he could get dependent. “Yeah, getting ‘likes’ is a little dopamine hit. It’s actually physical. The release of dopamine which is the pleasure centre of the brain. So when you open up the Instagram and someone has liked your picture you get a little ‘bop’. I suppose our generation did that in other ways but this seems to be shamelessly about servicing the ego.”
     I’m grateful that we’ve got over our rocky start of sitting waiting for each other in opposite corners of the restaurant and my mentioning of the D word. He’s warmed up and seems to grin a lot. I can’t tell if it’s a joyous grin or a supercilious grin but it’s definitely a charming grin. 
     His skin is extremely youthful. He says it’s because he’s been using a reverse ageing cream. He certainly looks considerably younger than his 68 years and he’s super trim. He rejects coffee today but says he does drink it sometimes. He requests more sparkling water. It arrives, no lemon, no lime. There is an attractive austerity to him because it is a complicated one. In his attempt to be simple he is of course immensely complicated and in some ways unfathomable.  When he looks at you – or rather through you – with those colour changing eyes, it feels like a dopamine hit. He shows me his Instagram. The latest one is of him having a head cast done for the HBO series Watchmen, based on the graphic novel written by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore. He looks at my Instagram. “That’s a lot of cats. What are their names?” Slut, Roger, Lola, Mister. “Is it only cats who follow you?” I’m hoping that he doesn’t notice any egotistical looking selfies. It turns out he is a big cat fan, by this I mean a fan of big cats. 
     When his mother in law was big cat rescuer Tippi Hedren (Griffith’s mother) he “raised a bunch of them. I raised lions, tigers and leopards. It was a blast.”
     Was it a dopamine hit? “Yes it was. When you raise them as babies and bottle feed them you become a parent and they are very loving. They used to sleep with us. We would go to bed and have a couple of lions in the bed with us.” 
     Did they snore? “Yes sometimes.” And did he say shut up Melanie and find he’d just nudged a lion? “I wouldn’t put it that way but you nudge them and they go miaow (makes a whimpering sound) and then they go back to sleep.”
     Were these full sized lions who shared your bed? “Adolescents, about 9 months old. Then they start to become cumbersome and scare the neighbours, but in our world it was normal and they were very housetrained. Tippi still has the big cats on her reserve. The ones that slept with us were essentially Tippi’s but they felt all part of the family.”
     A lion for a brother in law? “Yes. They were all big cats who were rescued from zoos or people who thought they would be fun and then when they got to be 300 pounds they didn’t want them anymore.” 
     Now he has me charmed. It’s no wonder this is a man who’s been all about women. It’s no wonder this man used to be dubbed Don Juanson. He’s all about the women.  He confirms to me he lost his virginity at 12 with the babysitter who was 16. Now I get it when he says romantic is in his DNA. He started young and says “yeah, it was like checking your Instagram page.” He was everybody’s crush in the eighties and some of those same people are crushing on him now.  Part of the appeal is he’s unexpected. You might have been thinking he’d be brash and excessive when he’s all about the zen.
     You think of him as salty when he’s actually quite sweet. You wonder was he just a womanising racoon or a man who knows how to love women?  He’s purposeful, determined, well read, ordered, yet there’s certainly been a lot of crazy in his life, like marrying Melanie Griffiths twice.
    In a recent interview Griffiths, now single for the first time in years following her divorce from Antonio Banderas, seemed to come over all swoony when his name came up on her phone. She spoke of him almost breathlessly and implied they still loved each other and said that Don Johnson’s diamond engagement ring was better than Banderas’s. 
     Johnson has had four wives in five marriages, three of which were brief. His first two marriages were annulled within days. He met Griffiths as a teenager and they married when she was 18, were divorced 6 months later. In the eighties there were many affairs. He lived with the actress Patti D’Urbanville (she of the Cat Stevens song Lady D’Urbanville) for five years and they had a son Jessie.  He also had an affair with Barbra Streisand. He speaks of them all so warmly. He says Streisand is “a wonderful, wonderful woman and very funny. We are friends to this day… I stay friends with people I connect with because they are unique and extraordinary beings and the world is a better place when they’re here.”
     He has been married to Kelly Phleger for nearly 20 years. She calls him DJ. He calls her, “Fabulous Kelly. An extraordinary woman. I knew this the first time I laid eyes on her.” 
     They met at a party in San Francisco and he made it his business to meet this “statuesque brunette.” After their first conversation he told her that he was going to marry her. “I just knew. Yes… and then she ignored me for a year – she was with someone else and she is a woman of character and principle and I wasn’t idle.” I’m sure he wasn’t. Two years later they were married. Idleness has never been in his DNA, in his love life or in his career. 
     After he came out with Till I Loved You with Streisand, he played in rock bands for a while. “Although I will sing a little bit in an episode of Watchmen and I’m still very connected to all that stuff, I made a choice that I was going to enjoy life. I would do music for free and work as an actor on a commercial level. I play music with my kids. Jessie plays guitar, piano, Alexander plays everything, Deacon plays everything, Jasper now 16 is always making beats but he’s my basketball player. 6 foot four and a lovely young man. I’m very close to all of them. we might have arguments and disagreements like every family but they are my best friends.”
    He’s always managed to stay close to his ex-partners. “Look, there’s something insane about people who stop having relationships they have a child with. Insane. You loved each other once and that child is an expression of that love and if you say something unpleasant about that person that you made the child with, you’re saying something unpleasant about that child and that is essentially ridiculous.”
     When the man who never looks back reunited with Griffiths for a second marriage, he reasoned that “two old souls connected so that Dakota could be born.”  He nods. Was it just that? Pause. 
     “Melanie and I have loved each other since we were kids. Love doesn’t die, it changes in volume and intensity but it never dies and I feel the same way about life. We are energy. Energy doesn’t die it just transforms and that’s the way I feel about love.”
    So he’s saying that even if your partner cheated on you, lied to you, left you and hurt you, you should forgive them? “Yes. If you forgive everybody all your family, all your friends and lovers in your life and release all the resentments, anger, there is happiness.” “I don’t want to hold any anger towards someone because that doesn’t help you.”
     OK, I tell him that he is a much more evolved person than I am.  He says earnestly, “if you’re able to make that statement, at least you understand that there’s an option. Forgiveness, it’s happiness,” he says and he looks at me, bores a hole in my soul with those eyes. There’s another dopamine hit.
     He reaches for his sparkling water. I tell him I can see no bread might be possible. I can’t see no coffee and I can’t see forgiveness.
     “It doesn’t really cost you anything and it benefits you.” I tell him to stop being unreasonably wise and we need to talk about something trivial which is how does he maintain the perfect level of stubble? He looks at me. he’s very wary of trivial but goes for it anyway.
     “In the eighties no one walked around with 3 day stubble but I did it because of the nature of the character and then I realised there are benefits to being in the sun and not shaving because you shave a layer of skin off so you leave this baby skin exposed to really powerful sunlight so it’s the secret of no sun damage.”
   Then he corrects me and says sometimes he does shave it all off because he’s discovered the age defying skin cream called Augustinas Barder. “This doctor is the head of stem cell research at Leipzig University and he has discovered how to communicate with your own stem cells so it’s reverse ageing.”
    A bit like Book Club. Women in their sixties and seventies rediscovering themselves as a hormonal teenager when they read Fear of Flying.

Kylie Minogue (April 2018)

When I first learnt that Kylie’s new album Golden was a country fusion I wasn’t a little reticent… but actually it is mesmerising. Sumptuous pop riffs and the discovery that Kylie has the perfect country voice. It’s an extraordinary blend of classic Kylie pop, yet soul baring country style lyrics. It’s personal. It’s deep. Her most raw thoughts set to music ever, yet somehow with their catchy, sunny melodies those thoughts are made beautiful. And that has always been Kylie’s style. To see good rather than bad. To create ease rather than stress. I’ve known Kylie for some time now and I’m glad to say we have an emotional shorthand. Kylie is and always was extraordinary and special yet down to earth real.
  We meet in The Ritz Piccadilly. She has The Royal Suite which is several rooms vast. Lots of brocade, candelabra, chandelier and swirly gold frames on 19thcentury oil paintings. The Kylie herself is wearing gold snakeskin stiletto boots, an off-white floaty chiffon skirt that has golden embroidery and alabaster chiffon-y top, hair longer and more golden than ever.
  She pours me tea and agrees that the making of Golden has been a cathartic experience. “I’m actually sad not to be going into the studio because creating is very rewarding. It’s a weird time to have to let it go. 
  In the beginning it was very much like a dear diary sort of thing. I don’t think the songs were very good. Now I’ve moved on the songs have too. But I was glad to reach a point where I thought I’ve got to be honest with myself more than anything. I wrote about relationships and love and the usual culprits. I was writing about heartbreak. I sing I’m Broken Hearted.
  Actually, I think I was a bit more broken than just heartbroken because for a long time I was in a relationship that we both knew was ending. I think it came out in the press a different way (it came out that Joshua Sasse the 30-year-old actor to whom she was engaged had an onset romance with a co-star) but towards the end of any relationship it takes its toll on you. I knew I wasn’t strong in myself so going into the studio and getting all that stuff out of my system was a way of dealing with it. My A&R guy Jamie Nelson had the idea that we would give it a country feel so it was a reinvention.”
  Kylie always seems to manage reinvention seamlessly. “I didn’t know what he meant at the time when he was talking about a little country edge but then we found it. I realise you can get away with putting more of a story in the song and you can be humorous with those stories.
  The most beautiful thing about the really sad songs is that they manage to be hauntingly sad and at the same time cleverly upbeat – a bit like the woman herself. You would never see Kylie as sad but this album is about getting over a relationship with the man that she was supposed to marry.
  They met in September 2015 onset – the TV musical comedy Gallivant when Kylie made a guest appearance and six months later they were engaged. By the end of 2016 things had started to fall apart. Sasse is a British actor 20 years’ her junior and the son of poet Dominic Sasse who was killed in a plane crash when he was five.
  They were pictured together often and looked happy and thrilled with each other but the love went wrong and it became the basis of the album. “We started in the UK and then we went to Nashville and I worked with English writers who live part time in Nashville. There’s such a different feeling about the place. It’s not like London, LA, Melbourne, Sydney. Even the shopping is different, although I didn’t have much time for that,” she tells me as I try and press on her a list of vintage cowboy boot ‘must do’ shopping experiences. Unlike her not to be excited by shoes.
  “It’s that people seem so emotionally connected there. I don’t want to take things away from any other thing that I’ve done but this was just different. I went to The Bluebird Café. I loved being in a room and seeing an audience of all ages listening. It was just beautiful with actual Stetsons and cowboy boots. I felt I could fall in love a million times. That’s the feeling there. That’s the energy and when you go to the performance rooms there, you see the songwriters talk about the song, how it came about. Not necessarily the best performers but you were there listening to it. I would love to perform at The Bluebird Café. Can you imagine how nervous I would be? But I’m going to try and do it. I’m already thinking of the stories I’m going to tell.”
  This is already the new Kylie. Previous Kylie would rather listen to stories than tell them. She would rather deflect the conversation away from herself. “I’d love to go back to Nashville. I feel I just scraped the surface. It had a profound effect on me and I really want to get to the next level. Everybody seems emotionally connected -as I said – so maybe it happens by osmosis. It really helped me believe in the song at the moment. It made me feel if you’re not going to give it everything, you may as well not be there. Although there was definitely a moment where I said, this is cool, but when we get back to my real world how is it going to translate? I worried that it would seem disingenuous to have gone all country. I didn’t want to be disrespectful to the genre but at the same time it’s so fun to sing.” This is not to say Golden is pure country. It’s Kylie-fied country and it is after all called Golden, an homage perhaps to her golden hot pants heritage and everything else glittery that encapsulates Kylie.
  “I didn’t know this album would be called Golden. I felt I was sifting and chipping away for long enough and I was like, I need a nugget, give me a nugget. So that was the album. Not so much a style, but the style of my healing.”
  As we talk about this healing she’s not specific about what she’s healing from, but she looks at me with an implicit understanding. She knows that I know she’s talking about Joshua Sasse. 
  Was she really going to get married to him? “Well I had the ring on the finger, didn’t I?” Had they planned a wedding? “No, we’d not gone that far.” Did she know which country it was going to be in. “no, no, no. It was a hasty move. It was the moment. It was a beautiful moment and I loved it and there was obviously a honeymoon period, just without that exact wording. And then you know as time goes on….”
  What happened. Did they fall out of love with each other? There is a long pause and a quizzical expression. “I think we did, yes. It’s complicated. And to try to put it in a nutshell would not only be too difficult but unfair.”
  Was it true that he went off to do a movie and fell in love with a co-star? “These things are known to happen but I wouldn’t want to comment on it. I mean, we can have a girly drink and I’ll tell you – otherwise I wouldn’t go down that road. For me, and this is going to sound selfish, but this album is about me. It’s about my relationship, where I am in my life and some songs talk about that point. In A Lifetime to Prepare I say ‘thought I’d settle down, a happy ever after princess…’ But actually, I never thought I was the marrying kind. I know for a lot of people it’s an important goal. That’s where they want to end up but for me it never was. I guess the thought was – that’s what people do. Maybe I’ll give it a try. But either it isn’t for me or it was the wrong person.
  I was swept up in the moment and I’m not afraid to admit that. To go back to lyrics of A Lifetime to Repair I say, ‘I’m not giving up on it’ and I’ll probably do foolish things again in the future. Otherwise I might as well stay at home and get lots of cats.” There’s a long pause. I’ve got lots of cats I say. “Have you?” she shrieks incredulously and we both burst into laughter “But you don’t just stay home. I mean no offence to multiple cat loving people who stay home, but I think my greatest fear is loneliness even though sometimes I crave to be alone. Maybe more so as I get older. I just want some quiet.”
  We muse this must be a Gemini thing, wanting to be alone and fearing loneliness. I remember a time when a friend told me she was really lonely and I had to think for a while. I didn’t really know what loneliness was and then my relationship of many many years broke up. I thought…this is lonely…and I immediately got more cats. We laugh as I tell this story and Kylie accentuates her mirth by banging on the table a couple of times. “I mean I have considered a cat,” she says mock gravely, “but I travel too much. How many cats do you have?” Four I say cheerily. Kylie is dissolving into her golden boots with hilarity.
  Once composed she tells me, “I think the end of being in the relationship was the hardest part. The decision making. Afterwards people were going ‘I hope you’re ok after this break up’ and I thought, you know I AM OK. Once it was done it was a relief to both of us, because it’s hard. You hang on to what is good and it’s hard to let go and you feel strangely embarrassed thinking oh, are we supposed to try and make this work?”
  She nods knowing it’s a situation that most people have been in. Do I stay or do I go? It’s also come at a particular time of life. Kylie turns 50 in May. “Golden, not old, not young but golden. I know it sounds a little fantastical but it’s true. You can’t make yourself younger. You are who you are and it makes sense to me in a realistic and slightly existential manner.”
  By this she means, I think, she is not going to be daunted at the prospect of reaching 50 and that milestone doesn’t mean she won’t have fun or excitement or love in her life. 
  “I’m always asked how to I feel about being my age in this industry and I think by asking me that you’re perpetuating the cycle, the myth that you can’t be older. By the same token they also asked me how it feels to be 18 and in this industry when I was starting out. I don’t know because I had nothing to compare it to.”
  On Golden there’s a sense of the passage of time, an urgent need to live in the moment which is perhaps a result of her cancer diagnosis and survival. Is that how cancer changed her? Needing to live in the moment? “No. I think it’s just where I am right now. I don’t think I would have sung those things 10/15 years ago. I want everything I’m singing to be authentic. Every story to come from a real feeling.”
  That is an interesting circle. In Kylie’s beginning she was dismissed as a manufactured pop star and now she’s describing herself as a woman who craves truth, authenticity. She is allowing herself to be open. All the songs have a truth in them. 
  “For instance, Radio On, I didn’t take a specific drive, put the radio on and cry but we’ve all been there and I just feel strengthened that I’m at a point in my life where I can look at things realistically.”
  Does she feel anxious about getting older? “I’d be lying if I said I never think about it. Sure. High heels and walking down the stairs my knees make sure I know about it. They’re going, how much longer are we going to be doing this? The heels come off as soon as I get home. But I do feel better within myself. A lot of people I know are turning 50 or have turned 50 recently and one thing that seems to ring true for all of us is to think, this is me. Not a number but this is me. I’m turning another corner of who I am. And a lot of things start to make sense. Things that you can’t have known when you were younger.”
  When women approach 50 they fear the unknown, the menopause, but Kylie had that in her 30’s as a result of her treatment for breast cancer. “Oh yes, I know about those things already,” she nods with a grimace. In fact, she told me everything about it at the time when I questioned why she was carrying a fan around her. She told me I would soon by carrying that fan and she was right.
  “You are flummoxed, you are hot and you forget what you’re saying.” So at least she doesn’t have to worry about that as she’s already had it. “I don’t have it now but I know what to expect.” What? You’re going to get it again? “Probably I will, yes because the first one was medically induced. So, when the time comes at least I know what it will be like.” That’s really unfair. “I know! They didn’t remove my ovaries or anything like that. They just suppressed my oestrogen and once you stop the medication, once you’re past a certain period it comes back. So, I’ll be back in the fridge. I remember a friend of mine a bit older than me used to go to the fridge, open it and stand in front of it. I’m ahead of the game with that experience. I’m under no illusion as to what’s instore.
  Of course cancer affected her life in so many ways but does she feel that there was one overriding thing that changed her? “Whaat? That question is so hard. I don’t think I’m cut out for interviews. I mean this is my life, but the interview bit…whoaaa. OK this is what happened… I wish I had a soundbite but the truth is a lot of things happened. You’re in that moment trying to get through… I felt a lot of guilt with my family because they felt helpless. They weren’t because their strength was important to me. It was tough to see them hurting so much and putting on a brave face. I don’t know how much they cried or how much they hurt out of my sight because they just couldn’t show that to me then.”
  But this is the Minogue household. This is jazz hands, smiles. Did she feel she couldn’t show her pain. “Oh, there were times, more than a couple of times that I really did. Now I’m just going to say cliched things but perhaps that’s alright. You take a look at the bigger picture, what’s important to you, who is important to you, what you want to do differently although I didn’t want to do anything differently. I just wanted to get better and get on with it. But I did realise that I like what I do, love what I do even and sometimes the good points come from beautiful moments of connection. I’ve got pretty good fans. They’re kind. I had a cabby the other day – I had an appointment but I really wanted to get a good coffee and there’s a place just near my house and I thought do I have time to go there or maybe I can get the cab driver to divert for the coffee. Its only three blocks away but the weather was sideways so I asked him. He said ‘hey of course. I want to thank you. You sent my daughter a picture. I remembered I’d been in that cab before and he’d said it would be such a thrill for his daughter to have something so I took his name and address and I said don’t promise her in case it goes missing or something but he said we got it, we framed it and wrapped it up and she opened it on her birthday and burst into tears. It was a beautiful moment. So that’s why I say if you’re not gonna give it everything you may as well not be here.”
  Menopause, break ups, taking off heel, cancer. Miserable subjects yet we we’re laughing. “Laughter, friends, music, family” – that’s how she dealt with everything.
I wonder is she dating now? “No,” she says, semi firmly.
 Does she want to? “Some days I think yes and other days I think I just don’t want a boyfriend right now. It sounds a cliché but I’m not looking for cats either.”
  We have more tea. I notice there’s not a line on her face. Her complexion is gorgeous. Would she ever have work done? “One of my absolute idols is Jane Fonda and the way she has handled it is admirable. I remember her saying something like it’s 80% genetics, 10% taking care of yourself and 10% a good surgeon, so if and when the time comes I’ll be taking a leaf out of Jane Fonda’s book. I’m not pro or against anything. It’s not the 1980’s where there weren’t options. I’m a bit lazy to be honest. Just today I was looking in a magnifying mirror putting on mascara and I said to the guy doing my make up, I think I need to do something, which of course I won’t get round to doing and in a flurry it may happen. I think you can do minimal stuff when you’re golden. 
  Men don’t get asked these questions.
  But I do love to cleanse my face. I have to get everything off. And I love a good sunblock. I’m hilarious. I love to be by the beach but I reapply all the time, under the tree with a hat, fully covered, swatting mosquitoes. But I love the vibes of the sea and I get myself a bit of Vitamin D. In Australia you really can’t manage staying out of the sun that much.”
  Of course, this album will come with a tour, a world tour and she will be back in Australia for that but before selected showcases “which now apparently, they call underplays – very small shows in London, Paris, Berlin and maybe Basel. 
  She was a big campaigner for gay marriage in Australia. “When the postal vote came through I was in London. I was texting with my sister and saying what if it doesn’t happen? It’s a modern country and we want to feel that we are forward thinking and liberal so it was kind of shocking to feel that we were so far behind in that. I was part of a campaign but I did wonder if people are sick of celebrities talking about it but the irony is you have to be heard and you’re more likely to be heard if you have the platform of celebrity.”
  Kylie is, of course, a gay icon and she wonders about that. When I suggest it’s because she has triumphed over tragedy and has a lot of shoes she tells me she was a gay icon long before she had tragedy or a lot of shoes. 
  “When I started off I hadn’t had a lot of real tragedy in my life – apart from bad hairdos. Charlene was a tomboy mechanic on Neighbours and that was going against the grain then so perhaps it’s someone who goes against the grain but I don’t really know much about sadness. Back then when I tried to release a single people tried to say you can’t do that, you’re an actress not a singer so I suppose I overcame that. The show must go on and it will go on again.”
  Of course it will and that’s a beautiful thing.

Olivia Newton-John (April 2018)

I’m inside Olivia Newton-John’s kitchen – she lives on a ranch just outside of Santa Barbara – she’s making pancakes from eggs from her chickens.  We hug hello like we’ve always known each other which doesn’t seem in the least weird because I have always known her. Who hasn’t? Who didn’t love her in Grease? Who doesn’t know all those songs? Who hasn’t lived and breathed her various life shattering traumas? Her breast cancer 25 years ago – her broken relationships, her unstoppable spirit, her bravery and her defining warmth. Yes, she really is adorable in person. How did she know I loved pancakes? She tells me they’re very nutritious, made from just laid eggs and they’re gluten free. She serves them with grass fed butter and almond milk coffee. Does this mean gluten, dairy and sugar are her enemies right now?
    “I never call anything my enemy because it’s a negative emotion. I’m just not eating them.” she laughs. She’s rigorous about releasing any toxic energy. Especially that surrounding certain words. She’s not a cancer “survivor”, she’s a cancer “thriver”. Only in the tabloids do people “battle” cancer. She explains to me once you set it up as a war, as a fight, it’s already negative.
    In May 2017 she was given the news that the pains in her back that caused her to postpone her US and Canadian tour dates were not in fact the sciatica she suspected. Her breast cancer had metastasized in her spine. She seems very carefree as she piles blueberries and blackberries on her plate. “They’re very low in sugar and I can have butter if it’s grass fed. I believe my body wants and needs a certain amount of fat.”
    Because you’re fine-tuned in listening to your body and psychic? “Well, it’s a mixture of reading up on these things. People say to me ‘how can you go without sugar?’ I say, when it’s about your health you just make that decision.” Because it’s life or sugar? “Yes, exactly. An easy choice. I also have an amazing husband who is incredibly knowledgeable about health and plant medicine so I’m very lucky.”
    As if on cue, her husband John Easterling (sometimes referred to as Amazon John because he once had a company that sold herbs from the Amazon for health benefits) sits down to the table. He’s tall, rangy, handsome, funny. He reaches to hold her hand as he forks up his pancakes with the other. They’ve been married 10 years. They love each other. You can smell it, touch it, feel it. Every morning he makes her a smoothie augmented with his specialist botanicals. “Every day I make Olivia a smoothie. Apple juice, reishi (a form of mushroom), cannabis leaves which I’ve trimmed from my personal garden, some rainforest herbs. The smoothie supports the immune system, detoxes and balances hormones and supports liver and kidney health. We start the day like that.”

    When she discovered the breast cancer had returned, she was in so much pain she couldn’t walk.  Surely this was a dark time? John says, “We got lots of messages from people saying I can only imagine what you are going through. We thought it’s stage 4 breast cancer. Nothing to freak out about. We know what to do. We’ll just take care of it so we went to this wonderful clinic in Georgia that has special ways of monitoring the system and that does a variety of IV’s with herbs and minerals that get extraordinary results. The pain level went from a 10 to a 1 in days and her energy levels are back and the counts are good. The more standard trained practitioners are going to have standard protocols but this is a time in history where there’s an explosion of information and discoveries to educate yourself. We have to rise up.”
    Did she mix alternative therapies and conventional therapies? “Very limited conventional. I don’t take any pills. Last year I did a course of photon radiation which is very targeted radiation to the problem area. Apart from that, plant medicine and herbs.”
    In California cannabis and cannabis oil CBD is totally legal and my cat has been prescribed it. She is 20 and doing very well but it’s not legal in Australia. Even the oil is difficult to get. “It’s crazy isn’t it? That has to change. In Australia they are not up to speed with America yet so it’s harder to get there. Hopefully becoming less so. It’s helped me a lot and should be available for patients, particularly those going into palliative care. We went to Australia to talk to the politicians about making it easier for people to get it and its benefits. I feel it’s my duty to talk about it as a cancer thriver myself.”
    It’s hard to get Olivia to talk about pain, even to remember it. She takes a breath and recalls, “I was working in Vegas. I thought I had sciatica. Well, I did have sciatica. I don’t know which came first.  I was in chronic pain and one day my girlfriend had a birthday and her favourite thing is tennis so we all went and played tennis and at the end of that day I couldn’t walk and the problem went on and on and on.”
    Did the sciatica mask the cancer? “I don’t know if the cancer escalated it or it was always there. I’ll never know. It didn’t occur to me that it could be the return of cancer until a year went by and I was still in excruciating pain. I had an MRI and we found it was in there.”
    It’s unusual for breast cancer to occur so many years after its original appearance and at the time of its discovery Olivia had referred to some dark moments but now she’s wiped them away. “The clinic in Georgia suggested the radiation as a safety measure because in the bone it’s hard to get to and since then I’ve only done natural healing.”
    I tell her that I had a friend whose breast cancer metastasized to the spine and she did chemo which of course made her feel terrible but she was never offered an alternative. Olivia nods with empathy. “I understand. When I went through this 25 years ago, even though I was terrified of chemo and I didn’t want to do it, I did it. I chose to. I can’t blame anyone else for choosing but people would say why don’t you do it as a safety measure and I’m glad I did it because now I’ve had the experience so when patients at my centre are going through it I have compassion. I understand that it’s really difficult and it leaves you with a chemo brain for years. You’re really kind of hazy. I’m still hazy or at least that’s my excuse!” She laughs, a really sparkly laugh and then she says, “I wouldn’t do it again. It’s a very old fashioned way. We’ve just been watching The Truth About Pet Cancer and even though it’s about pets, it’s still about barbaric ways of treating them with chemo. There are other ways. I have my own herbal guru here so I would and whenever my dog (a black German Shepherd) gets anything, she gets natural therapy from my husband.”
    John tells me that he’s actually working on a formula for pets that will build up their immune system and help them be less prone to cancer.
“My whole background is in plant medicine. Cannabis is in the plant kingdom. We’ve had access to it for thousands of years and it’s only recently been interrupted. Our relationship with that plant is very important and now we discover that there’s a system in our bodies that’s very receptive to this plant so people should have access to it. I don’t think it should ever be called a drug. It’s clearly plant medicine. “When we are in Australia we’ll visit politicians, share information, educate and influence where we can.”
  John and Olivia use the ‘we’ word a lot as if they think as one. They had known each other for about 20 years before they had the coup de foudre moment. I ask John, didn’t he have any thwarted longings when he knew her as a friend? Any persistent pangs that they were meant to be?
    “No,” he grins. “We met at an environmental show where I was displaying my botanicals because they are sustainably harvested.” Olivia and a couple of mutual friends came to the show. John continues, “They sampled some herbage and then they came back the next day because they were pretty excited about all the things they did that night because they got a herb jump before. They got herbed up, yes. I had a herb company for 27 years and still formulate products for doctors’ groups. For years we supported the same charities but that was it. We didn’t get together.”
   There wasn’t an immediate special connection? Olivia answers, “No, not for either of us.” John says, “I was busy and I thought that if you’re involved in Hollywood you must be a nutcase and I was doing real stuff for real people. We’d see each other every year at charity functions and the more I got to know her I thought oh, she’s a really nice person. She really does care about people and animals, the rainforest. So we became friends and that’s as far as it went.
    Then I was doing a talk in California. She came to it and I stayed in her guest house. The next morning I was driving to the airport and drove off a cliff.” Olivia says, “You see, he didn’t want to leave… He went to the hospital and he wouldn’t take any of their painkillers.”
    John was X Rayed and it was discovered he had a fracture in his lower spine. “I could barely move so I stayed on her couch till I could travel again but she had a dog, a setter. Dogs are very intuitive and that dog stayed with me all night, bonding with me. Olivia said. “And then he went on the plane the next day.”
    But the dog Scarlet was going to have puppies. John says, “I had just lost my dog so she said she was sending me a puppy. She definitely picked the craziest dog and sent him up. I had never heard any of Olivia’s music. Her first stuff was just not my genre of music and I never saw Grease.”
    What? You were the only person in the entire universe that never saw Grease? Olivia confirms, “He was.” John says, “It’s true. I haven’t found anyone else that hasn’t seen it and I’m still looking.
    I was living in Florida and her assistant called and said Olivia’s doing a concert if you’d like to come. You can bring your girlfriend. I said I’ll bring the dog so I took the dog and when the lights went down I heard this Peruvian music. Then she walked out and started singing Pearls on a Chain which is a very healing song and that’s when I recognised who she was. She’s a healer and this is her medium of healing.  All I could think of was I want to introduce her to other healers who work in the Amazon so after the show I asked her if she wanted to come to Peru and she said yes and I thought oh no I’m taking her to Peru. I’d better watch Grease.”
    I wonder about this healing notion. There is a reason why people go to her shows, love her and feel uplifted and touched by something and I’m not sure it’s just when she does Peruvian flute music. There is something extraordinary about her. There’s enormous bravery for a start. We can’t all identify with that but we all want to glimpse it. Plus she’s very switched on to other people’s needs. She shrugs that off and continues with the story. “It never occurred to me I was a healer.” Of course it didn’t. “It was my friend Nancy’s 60th birthday so they came with us, the four of us to Peru. I was really going because it was Nancy’s birthday.” John says, “She heals people all the time.” He smiles at her adoringly.
    “I do my show and I’ve done an album recently about grief with Amy Sky and Beth Nielsen Chapman. It’s called Liv On. After my sister passed away and after I went through breast cancer I wrote an album. It was the first album I’d written on my own called Gaia. About the spirit of the planet. This is before John and I were together. One of the songs is Don’t Cut Me Down about the rainforest. We were on a parallel path. Then I did an album Grace and Gratitude after I went through another life crisis. Music is always my healing.”
    Grace and Gratitude was released in 2006 and I wondered if it was about her partner of 9 years Patrick McDermott who went missing and was presumed dead after a fishing accident in 2005.  
    “When I’m going through something my way to express it is through music so Grace and Gratitude was another album about coming through something difficult and seeing the beauty in life, being grateful for it and then live on. I have done three albums like that, not pop albums but they are kind of healing.”
   Her Spa in Byron Bay is called Gaia, voted consistently best Spa in the world. “It’s a very special place, a healing place and then there’s my hospital (the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre in Melbourne) which is my passion. I have been introducing wellness programmes in a cancer hospital environment. Introducing the patients who go there to the kind of therapies that I was able to have access to but most people can’t afford.”
   The people in the hospital have these therapies largely as an extra to chemo. “My dream is that one day the hospital will take off the word cancer and it will be a wellness and research centre because there won’t be cancer anymore. They will have found the answer.”
   She doesn’t like the word cancer and she particularly doesn’t like the words ‘MY cancer’. “It’s THE cancer. You don’t own it and I don’t like when they talk about fighting cancer because that sets up a war in your body which can cause inflammation which is the very thing you’re trying to settle down. I use the words “say goodbye to”. I think we manifest these words.” and John continues “and that’s where people get stuck.” Olivia says, “I use the words ‘winning over’ and ‘living with’ because there comes a point where you can’t get rid of every cancer cell in your body. Everybody is dealing with them all the time. Some people don’t even know they’ve got it. It’s a normal part of the cycle. Cells are programmed to die. Cancer cells too.”
    Taken out of context it may seem a little woo woo to be so particular about these words but it makes sense that if you have cancer you have to stay calm. You have to stay positive. I do believe what you think becomes true and all these words just help in making us fearful. John says, “Fear is the problem. It’s in a state of fear where you make irrational decisions.”
    I still can’t imagine that she wasn’t a little afraid when it came back. “It’s unusual, yes. You do think ha, it’s over. It didn’t occur to me that it would have been that. I felt pretty good. I was working and enjoying my work and now I’m just staying healthy and staying strong, taking a lot of supplements. I did some shows last week. I’m taking a little break from more shows and I’m not sure what I’m going to be doing for the Grease 40 year anniversary.”
    One thing that she is going to be doing is auctioning the original Sandy leather trousers. She has kept them all these years. They are of course tiny but I bet she can still fit into them. Everybody had a character in Grease that they identified with.
  “They still do. It’s unbelievable. When I do the show there’s every age group. Grandparents my age (hollow laugh), their children and their children’s children. They all have something to connect with.”
    For the 25th anniversary of Grease, John Travolta piloted a Quantas plane and Olivia was the flight attendant in full uniform. She laughs with just a hint of nostalgia, but quickly moves on to talk about her wellness walk in September.
    “We’re going back to Australia in May to talk to the government about cannabis but the walk is in Melbourne in September. People come from all over the world, some of my die-hard fans. They form little groups and compete with each other to see how much money they can raise.  And for people who can’t come to Australia, there’s a virtual walk. It raises money also for the families because to be a caretaker is difficult and very wearing for people.”
     Hmm. And that is said by a super caretaker. Meeting her for just a couple of hours, you can see she’s nurturing to the core. What about her dark moments? Who nurtures her? Pause.
   “It’s interesting you say that. I’ve about four friends who are going through cancer now. I stay connected with them. I don’t think about mine. It’s not on my mind constantly. I do all the things that I should be doing on a regular basis but I like to support other people because I’ve been there before and I am still here. I think that gives other people hope.  If I can encourage them by saying come on I’ve done it before, we can do this together now, it makes ME feel good.”
    We talk about some of my friends with cancer, some going through it now, one who didn’t make it and one who said she would rather kill herself rather than have another round of chemo. She shakes her head. “Poor thing. So horrible. I think everybody goes through that moment.” But really she’s nurturing other people. Who’s nurturing her?
    “Gosh. I had a good support team for sure. The first time is so long ago now. I had my first husband, my sister, my friends…”
    Should people be encouraged to look beyond chemo? “I think yes. I think you should do the research and see what feels right for you.  I would never tell anybody you should. Should is not a word that I use but I would encourage them. What else am I doing? I’m involved in many things like trees. I started One Tree Per Child with my friend John Dee. Tree Day in Australia and everyone plants a tree and in the end we’d planted 10 million trees in Australia and 50,000 trees in England so kids grow up from an urban society that they are environmentally conscious.”
    She’s also written two cookbooks –Live Wise, Grace & Gratitude and has supervised the Gaia cookbooks. They are all on her kitchen shelf and in regular use. She’s also working on an autobiography coming out in September. Was that fun or miserable? “It was cathartic. I worked with someone who helped me because it would have taken me at least ten years if I’d had to do it by myself.  It’s stories from my life, positive ones.
    They’ve also done a movie of my life in Australia with Delta Goodrun playing me,” she grimaces. “I probably won’t watch it. When they told me they were doing it I was horrified, because despite the fact I’m well known, I’m kind of private and my private life, even though it gets into the papers, is not something that I want to talk about. I worry about the people in my life. It’s not their fault they were married to me or were my boyfriend so I didn’t want it to happen but then I realised it was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not. So I decided to make something positive out of the negative so I asked that any money that would come to me would go to my hospital so that way I can do it and feel I care about it. I love Delta. I think she’s a really good actress and a great singer so that made it OK because we’re friends.
   But in the beginning she called me. “Shall I do it or not?” I said first, I’m not sure and then I said, oh you do it.  I haven’t read it and I don’t know how accurate it is because it’s a movie and people weren’t there at every moment of my life but the money will go to the hospital so some good has come of it.”
    An expression of pain suddenly fills the large all feeling eyes. She’s remembered it’s time to give one of her chickens Goldie her antibiotics. She’s recovering from a toe amputation in a separate coop with her sister. I thought giving a cat pill was an epic but giving a chicken a pill… “It’s easy,” she says as she scoops the golden feathered creature up in her arms and buries a pill into Goldie’s favourite sourdough bread. The other chickens – 18 hens and 2 roosters, live in a mansion of a chicken coop and they are all various different breeds, colours, speckly bits and feathered feet. We feed them cheese, salad, blueberries and just a little of their favourite bread. Olivia’s chickens eat better than most people. She’s also rescued 2 miniature horses which are so small only the chickens can ride them. How did this great rescuer of wild things come to be?
    She was born in Cambridge where she lived till she was five before moving to Melbourne. Her parents were academics. Her father a professor and her mother the daughter of Nobel prize- winning scientist Max Born.
   “They were not so much into showbusiness but what I got from them was work ethic. They both worked really hard. My mum wanted me to finish school or go to RADA in London. I did none of those things. I got a job on TV in Melbourne when I was 15. I was lucky. I got to learn the ropes young, rather than going to school and then learning them. I was interested in singing and I’ve had a really blessed life. I’ve been lucky with my managers, my producers…”
    In fact, her current assistant has been with her since Grease and she still works with John Farra who wrote all the songs from Xanadu and many other hits.
    “I’ve worked with Steve Kipner and Peter Allen many times. I’ve always worked and I’ve always worked hard. Even in the beginning with Pat Carroll when we were Pat and Olivia we worked all the crummy clubs, staying in local digs. We had fun. I never thought this is horrible, this could better. This was my reality and we had a great time.
    Even though we came from an academic background, my sister too became an actress. She passed away 5 years ago from a brain tumour very quickly. In the beginning she was what we laughingly called a chaperone. She was funny and cheeky and gorgeous.”
    Is she saying she led her into more trouble? “Yes, exactly but she kept me out of too much trouble and we definitely had fun. I think I was more HER chaperone if the truth be known. She always encouraged me because I think I was doing what she wanted to do. She got married very young and had a family and didn’t pursue it.
    In the beginning my family really wanted me to go university. I didn’t have the brain of the focus. I could do it now but then… I had the determination. I didn’t settle down till my thirties. I was afraid of marriage because my father had had three marriages and my sister had three so I was nervous and finally I have the perfect husband. I am so happy.”
    She reminds me she was 59 before she found the love of her life. Not that she didn’t always have a good relationship with her first husband Matt Lattanzi. “We’re good friends and Chloe is living up in Portland near him. He has a wonderful wife that we both love and we’re all friends.”
    I marvel. Most break ups are toxic and carry at least some bitterness. She sighs. “Life is about love and forgiveness and moving on. He’s still the father of my daughter. We actually made a pact very early on, even before we got married that if we ever had a child we would never allow anything to come between the relationship with the child and we’d never make her part of a pawn thing that people do. We’ve watched our friends go through divorce.”
    Was she always so grown up? “With those things you have to be because it’s about another life.”
    What does she look for in a friend? “Everyone’s different. I have a wide and diverse range of friends. A lot of them go back to when I was really young. People I can trust and have fun with. When I go back to Australia I stay in touch with them and my family. My sister’s children and my brother. He likes to be out of the limelight.”
    I didn’t even know she had a brother. “Actually I have two. A brother and sister from my father’s second marriage. They live in Sydney. He is a doctor, a pain therapist.  My sister works in administration. My father was a professor of language. He worked at Bletchley Park, cracking the codes in the second world war.  He spoke perfect German and had an incredible ear. He was a good singer so maybe I got it from my dad. He won scholarships to Cambridge and spoke German with a perfect accent. When he joined the air force they made him the interrogator of German prisoners of war (including Rudolph Hess).”
    Her life here couldn’t be further from academia. It’s all about living and working with the land. John tells me “We love to be with nature with the chickens, the horses, the dog, the cat. I was a tropical guy for a long time in Florida so we like to go to Florida and get in that ocean. We like to be here and hike and just have a good time together. We laugh a lot.”
   Olivia muses contentedly, “I get up, feed the chickens, collect the eggs and make sure they’re OK. I used to have a full grown horse but since my reoccurrence last year I haven’t been game enough to ride. I don’t know if I should. I have to make sure everything has grown back in before I do that.  It could be good for me but I’m not convinced. My instinct will tell me. My instincts are pretty good.”
    Yeah, she made me pancakes when she was going to make me Portobello mushrooms and scrambled eggs.
    She thinks her ranch is very healing.
    We go to take a walk in her healing paddocks. It’s hard to imagine that this year she turns 70. She doesn’t look 70, not that I’m sure what 70 looks like.  With the trademark blonde hair in a tousled, long bob, she strides across the paddock still with determination.  Despite being so warm and open in her spirit, there is part of her that is guarded, that doesn’t easily trust, but I don’t see that part today. I must have told about 3 people that I was doing this interview but word spread and during the time I’m there messages from all over the world are coming in for her. Some of my friends actually know her and are sending her love and she sends love back very graciously. She is totally unassuming and if she is self-protecting she does so in a really classy way. When I hug her goodbye, it’s a real proper hug. Dare I say it, a healing hug.

Jodie Whittaker (Sunday Times Magazine, March 18, 2018)

The Sunday Times cover-20180318 When I meet Jodie Whittaker she is dressed entirely in black. A black knit rib top, black skinny jeans, black ankle boots – flat, no nonsense. We’re sitting in the library of the Charlotte Street Hotel which is all cluttery cosy with tapestried couches. She couldn’t be more at odds with the surroundings.  Her hair is in a variation of a blonde bob, her make-up understated.    Down to earth Yorkshire woman. There is a firmness to her. You don’t mess with her. There’s a strange kind of deep seated confidence and strength and that’s something that she brings to the roles she plays.  There’s very little of the vamp in her, but with her huge eyes and voluptuous lips there’s a trace of a woman who can do anything. Including take on the role of the first female Doctor Who and in the film Journeyman play the wife of a boxer who becomes brain damaged.
In Broadchurch her character was labelled the most terrorised woman on British TV (her son was murdered by a family friend), but she was never tragic, never a victim.
This is the kind of spirit that permeates her character in Journeyman. At the beginning we see a loving relationship with an important sexual connection and then we watch as her husband can no longer control himself and doesn’t understand what sex is anymore.  She deals with it, or at least her character does in a strangely fearless way. 
Someone has bought us teeny weeny little muffins on a chintzy plate. It feels like I’m taking a panther to tea in a dolls house. Not because she’s large – she’s actually tiny – and not because she’s fierce.  She’s actually warm but she takes no prisoners and has a huge presence  and I’m sure her home is not decorated in chintz. She is struggling with her newfound Doctor Who fame – people coming up to her in the supermarket and asking for selfies. Even as the most terrorised woman on TV she was never recognised – a tribute to her chameleon abilities and her decision to take boundaries seriously.  She has taken on this new fame gamely –  as long as it isn’t too invasive. She’s more than willing to make someone’s day. In fact, she does a little video message for my friend Rob – a lifelong Doctor Who fan. He almost cries when he gets it. She knew he would. That is the kind of emotion Doctor Who evokes in people. She is hugely empathic to its fans. She knows she’s taken on something that comes with heritage. She knows that the supermarket will never be the same but there are certain things she doesn’t want to share.  She’ll talk about her husband, actor/writer Christian Contreras and talk about the fact that she’s a mother but she will not say what sex her child is.
She is rather a contradiction. The more we talk, the more I see the contradiction – she’s warm and friendly, open with her opinions, yet barriers are so indelibly drawn there’s absolutely no crossing them.  
She sounds as if she’s never left Yorkshire although she’s lived in London since drama school. She’s now 35 and she’s spent a lot of time in Los Angeles. “Not for work,” she shudders. “Just because my husband is American and he often works over there. So we’ll go for 8 weeks at a time. To me 8 weeks is a long time. That’s one of the things I love about this job.  It means you can travel to different places and learn how they can become incredibly familiar quite quickly. I find it’s a certain mindset. If you’re used to having to just land somewhere and get to know it quickly you just immerse yourself in it and Google the best places. I’m good at being somewhere new. I’ve already done that with so many places in the UK.”
Broadchurch was shot in Bridport and she did three series. Journeyman was shot mostly in Sheffield and Doctor Who in Cardiff.  She filmed her first episode for Doctor Who in October 2017 – a small but integral part in the Christmas special where the previous Doctor played by Peter Capaldi regenerated into Whittaker’s 13th Doctor.
It’s interesting to think of the concept of a female Doctor Who, not because having a vision and uber-knowledge are necessarily male criteria but because there are not so many superhero female role models. She’s certainly no cat woman. She doesn’t play her as an ultra-female but she’s not exactly non-binary either. It’s an interesting mix. An 8month shoot for the entire series means she won’t be taking breaks to shoot another movie. “Basically, because I’m in every scene.”
She found the time to do Journeyman in gaps between her other work.  Although she’s the female lead she’s not in every scene. “I was in it a lot. I’m not very good at doing two things at once.” 
Is that because she’s all or nothing? “Yes but also because when I learn my lines I really need time. I think if I did try to double up stuff I’d be all over the place. Some people are amazing at it.” I tell her I wouldn’t be very good at it either. I’m not very good at writing more than one piece at a time. I get brain freeze. “I would never spend time writing anything if I didn’t have to. I’m someone that failed their GCSE’s.”
We have a long discussion about the word ‘mardy’ which is a northern word. It means grumpy. She says sometimes she is mardy and she has to remind herself, “What would 10- year old me do? They wouldn’t complain that it was freezing or whatever. They’d be a pig in shit, so stop moaning. I’m not a big complainer. If I’m annoyed I’m annoyed and people will know where they stand. If I’m upset I’ll be crying and if I’m happy I’m proper happy. I don’t have a filter or a poker face. But strangely I can do it with work. If you need me to be somebody I’m not I can manage that.”
She laughs, a proper laugh. Maybe she doesn’t want to work in her personal life. She just wants to relax. Playing all these emotionally wrought women must take its toll. Referring to her character Emma in Journeyman’s strength “it’s not like me. It’s quite a graceful strength, an elegant strength.” We dissect her character and wonder how she could have endured.  Journeyman is a boxing movie but not of the Rocky kind. It’s not triumph over tragedy. It’s a journey to survive. It’s about a boxing champion (Paddy Considine) going in for one last fight which he wins and also loses because he becomes brain damaged and he has to learn to live all over again.  How to walk, how to talk, how to have sex again, how to have relationships with his friends, his wife, his child.
“We shot it pretty much in sequence and I think that helped.  We did a lot of it on first take.” Considine not only plays Matty the boxer. It is also his directorial debut.
“It’s hard when you’re with someone who is a phenomenal actor and he’s got great banter. We would be there having a lot of laughter in between takes. No one was in character the whole time. It wasn’t method. That’s not how he or I work.” 
The film is not an obvious tearjerker but emotional it is. Be prepared to cry. There’s a very subtle manipulation of our emotions but much of it is about normalcy. “That makes it harder cinematically but there are so many scenes that are very affecting.” There are many twists and turns and shocks, emotional and otherwise and a beautiful Nick Cave song that forms the basis of the soundtrack. “What was brand new for me was being directed by someone who was in a scene with me and who had written it before. I would say when it’s my close up will you be there or behind the monitor? He was there. I was a bit worried about it. It sounds daft but actors don’t give other actors notes. It’s a respect thing so I thought it would be weird having another actor saying ‘don’t do it like that’, but he doesn’t direct like that so it was fine.”
A lot of the themes were even by Whittaker’s standard “harrowing.”  Of certain scenes she says, “I found it excruciating.”
Although it is not based on a real-life boxing legend story, Considine is an ardent boxing fan. “It comes from having that passion. And while we were shooting this it actually happened to a boxer.” 
Three years ago, Will Smith’s Concussion examined head injuries in American football players and that was based on a true story. The British story is “about what happens to a family when this kind of injury happens. She was much stronger than I could be.  I am instinctive in my acting and when someone tells you soften it, it will come over in a much stronger and more contained way. There’s a guilt and a rawness and even though it’s about something bigger it’s also about relationships. My favourite stories are all about the relationship. Even if it’s on an epic scale like Arrival it’s about relationships.”
Whittaker’s work is often about the minutiae that damages us. She is always onscreen very accessible, very human and now she is in the world of science fiction, the world of Doctor Who. I’ve no doubt she is perfect at finding the human side of the Doctor.
Part of Doctor Who’s appeal is that it has always managed to be ordinary as well as extraordinary and it knows the issues that move us, past, present and future. She reminds me how she was moved by the film Avalanche, particularly by the family dynamics.  The father runs away. His animal instinct is to run.
“You think please don’t be a f***er. Please be a good person.” Would she run or stay to protect her kid? “Ha!” she says, accusingly. “I agree that I’ve got one kid. That’s as much as you’ll get out of me about that. I’m just really funny about it. I want their life to be private for as long as that’s maintainable.”
There’s a millisecond of a pause and she continues “But would I do flight or fight? I hope I’m a fighter. You don’t know though, do you?”
At the end of last year she did a BBC series Trust Me about a nurse who takes a job as a doctor. Sinner or saviour? She likes that. “Also morally dubious. I like playing characters that are not sugar coated.” Again, it’s about survival. “I am lucky though that no one’s had one idea of me and held on to that and thought this is all I can do. I’ve got a strong accent, I’m very obvious in my personality type but I want people to believe I can do anything.” 
Her first film after drama school was Venus with Peter O’Toole. She was 24 years old. “I spent an entire press junket trying to convince people that the director hadn’t found me at a bus stop having a fight with a mate. He found me via my agent. I left drama school early because I got a part in Mark Rylance’s last season at The Globe. I finished The Globe in September and started Venus in October. I was lucky and also, I had a mindset that was naïve but helpful. The mindset was this acting lark is fun isn’t it rather than the mindset filled with trauma and rejection.”
She puts this down to her parents. “I was brought up in a household where you were celebrated for what you could do and you were never shamed for the things you struggled with. There was no part of my upbringing that suggested I needed to focus and get a proper job. There was no telling me what I wanted to do was ridiculous or unrealistic. Also, from a young age me and my brother were told if you don’t know something just ask so I’ve never been embarrassed about not knowing anything. I find gaining knowledge wonderful but I don’t mind not knowing something. I just ask.”
She grew up not knowing any actors. There was no family tradition so you wonder where this brilliant creature came from. She just seems to have landed in herself from a different Universe. Maybe that’s what she and the first female Doctor have in common.
“No acting in the family, nothing, just the love of film.” (She grew up in the 80’s where cinemas were very accessible. “I was far too young to watch Jaws but I did, I loved being exposed to Spielberg and cinematic adventure.”
Her father ran a small business and her mother was stay at home but as soon as Whittaker was old enough she went back to work as a teaching assistant at a school for children with behavioural problems. She had been a nanny, a paediatric nurse, always worked with children…
She cites Some Like It Hot as an inspirational movie growing up. “I must have watched Some Like It Hot like 500 times when I was young.” Did she want to be Marilyn Monroe?  As I ask the question but I feel I already know the answer.  Monroe is way too obvious, way too vulnerable, way too girlie. “I think I wanted to be Jack Lemon, you know I liked the journey of that character. It was phenomenal.  
And here we learn what is extraordinary about Whittaker – she is probably the only woman who could watch that movie and identify with the man who dressed up as a woman.
“Do you remember Bottom – the TV series with Rik Mayall? I watched every episode of that growing up.  And quite a few people have said I remind them of that character.” Meaning she is the joker, the tomboy, the person who can make the magic?
“If I hadn’t been an actor I would have loved to be involved in a team sport.  I have never wanted to direct because I don’t have a vision.  I have never wanted to be a writer because I don’t want to be in a room by myself.  I don’t know the answers or the bigger picture but I don’t mind someone saying ‘That doesn’t work, why don’t you do it this way?’ 
I like being part of a team.  Growing up I played squash, hockey, rounders, not netball because I couldn’t cope with standing still.  I like watching teams on the Olympics, everyone is individual but it only works because they are all in something together.  I love relationships with other actors and directors. Doctor Who is very collaborative, it is a very exciting job.”
She had a code name with her family and with her agent before her Doctor Who announcement. It’s always top secret and this time even more so. “It was The Clooney. Because to me and my husband George is an iconic guy. And we thought, what’s a really famous iconic name? It was just fitting.”  And although it felt overwhelming she also took comfort in that she was part of a team, a team that existed before she was even born.  “It’s wonderful and overwhelming and I absolutely love it. As a family we didn’t watch it except at other people’s houses.  But I was much more aware of it when it came back with Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith.
Who was her favourite? “David of course, because I know him (her co-star in Broadchurch).  I think he was amazing. But there is no right or wrong, there are no rules.”
What does it feel like to be the first woman Doctor? It feels completely overwhelming; as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human, as someone who wants to continually push themselves and challenge themselves, and not be boxed in by what you’re told you can and can’t be.” I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender because this is a really exciting time and Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change. The fans have lived through so many changes, and this is only a new, different one, not a fearful one.”
Does she play the role as a woman or simply a being from another planet who doesn’t really have a gender?  “That is a difficult question because I am a woman, I don’t ever play being a woman, I wouldn’t know how to play being a woman.  Just like a man wouldn’t know how to play being a man.  It’s me, but I am not bringing gender to my choices. I am bringing character to my choices.  I don’t mind not knowing.”
Often the Doctor becomes very close to his female companion and there’s a semi-romance. Is her companion male or female? “I’ve got three companions, two boys and a girl.  Bradley Walsh, Tosip Cole and Mandip Gill.  Everyone is a different age.”  But is there a romance? “I am only a few weeks in so I don’t know the answers to quite a lot of questions yet.”
Is she signed on for one or more series? “I am not allowed to answer that.” (Again, this is traditionally surrounded in secrecy). As female empowerment came into the news there have been a lot of questions surrounding her pay.  And the BBC gender pay gap has recently been uber criticised. The question is, is she paid the same as her predecessor Timelords? Fortunately, she was able to achieve the same pay as Peter Capaldi. “It’s an incredibly important time and equal pay is a notion that should be supported – and it’s a bit of a shock that it’s a surprise to everyone that it should be supported.”
She’s already lost her anonymity and she’s so far only been a cameo in one episode. Just before Christmas a picture of her Doctor Who costume was released. It’s quite clever. It acknowledges the heritage of previous Doctors but it is its own entity – a T shirt with a rainbow stripe echoes the multi coloured scarves of previous Doctors. Petrol coloured trousers with braces and multiple earrings that are stars and planets. Days after its release social media endlessly pondered their meaning. Did she feel daunted by it? “No,” she beams. “I went to the audition excited but I always come into the room with the attitude I sound like this, I look like this but believe me, I can do it. 
She tells me about the Journeyman audition. “I didn’t know Paddy (Considine) before we did this.  I wasn’t nervous but I really wanted to get the job and I knew every other actor reading wanted it.  I also know I am not a ‘name’ so I would probably be able to raise £2.50 in financing, so I went in thinking this was a long shot.”
Clearly, she is a name but maybe she just means she’s not a Hollywood A Lister that can attract millions in financing? “Well I am sure I bring a certain amount of finances, I’ve got skills…I would do anything if there was a script that excited me or there was a person I wanted to work with.  I have done the low budget really tough, gruelling shoots where you are huddled around a candle trying to keep warm and I would 100% do that always if I loved the script.  I think on the British Indie film level.”  Does that mean she doesn’t see herself as a Hollywood A Lister of the future? “It doesn’t mean if you say yes to one thing you say no to another.”
She’s certainly not put off Hollywood because of the current post Weinstein revelations. Has she ever been pressured in auditions to do something unpleasant or unscripted with the attitude ‘if you don’t do this another woman will and that woman will get the part?’ “It hasn’t happened to me but I am lucky,” she says seriously.
The Doctor Who auditions were brutal in a different way because they went on for such a long period of time.
And I was going, ‘Please, please tell me, please.’  I had three meetings and a self-take and then they needed more scenes so I had to take another self-take and then a final meeting.” Most auditions, even for landmark roles are a much swifter process. She tells me that the Broadchurch audition happened when she was in a dress rehearsal for the play Antigone. She was an hour late!  “Antigone itself is quite demanding.  I did my scenes like I had got nothing left to give and they were like ‘Perfect.’  So, it just shows you never know.”
Broadchurch became a crime series that was much loved and much emulated and she was known for the woman who seemed to suffer like no other.  After she left drama school she was cast in The Storm at The Globe with Mark Rylance and her first film Venus was with Peter O’Toole. She’s used to a landmark victory. “I think I have been really lucky.  Doctor Who definitely puts me on a level where if I go into a meeting I probably don’t have to say what I have been doing for the last few months.” She grimaces. She has worked hard at being the most unrecognisable recognised British star. It’s been an interesting equation. Hard to balance but she got it down.
“People have been absolutely lovely so far.  The other week in Cardiff I could see this little lad plucking up the courage to talk to me so I made it easier. “You all right mate?” So, I know it made his morning.  I’m actually fine with that.  People are lovely but I am very private. It’s hard to be private but it is possible as long as you stick to certain things.  I still get on the tube and I will continue to get on the tube but I might wear a hat.”  She laughs. Her rules for what’s private are interesting. She doesn’t consider talking about her husband as private.
“I have been with my husband for a really long time.  He is a screenwriter and an actor, he is Googleable.  I just think it’s easier for people to believe in me on the screen if they don’t know that much about me.”
She and her husband have been together since drama school. Does she consider this relationship as something that doesn’t really define her? She laughs warmly but doesn’t commit to a yes or no.
“A lot of this is on my Wikipedia page but my birthday is wrong on it.  It’s June 17, same day as Arthur Darvill (he played Reverend Paul Coates in Broadchurch) and we are exactly the same age.  We were on set at Broadchurch and he was in the guardian birthday’s list and I was like, ‘I can’t believe it!  Where am I?”
Somehow, I don’t think she will be missed off that list this year. “I love talking about work, politics, opinions, cinema but if you know too much about them it makes it difficult to watch them.  I know it makes me seem rude, which I don’t mean to be, it makes me seem a bit of a knobhead…That’s the way it is.” She laughs – a deep, gurgling laugh. “My mates get to know the real me, my family, but not everybody.”
She stretches out on the little couch. “I missed London when I was filming in Cardiff. When people say, ‘Where is home?’ I say London.  If you had asked me when I was fifteen I would have said Huddersfield.  I am obviously from Yorkshire but I married to an American and I live in London.  A few years ago, I remember getting on the tube. Huddersfield were playing, I think it was an FA cup semi-final and all of these people got on at Finsbury Park and I had my town scarf on and they were like, ‘Come on darling,’ and showed me how to use an Oyster card.”  
She is, indeed a contradiction.  Warm and friendly, likes to have a laugh but also impenetrable. She never even posts anything on Instagram or Twitter. “I don’t want to know what people think about me… sometimes when I am really passionate I would love to throw my voice but perhaps I am too argumentative and I will say something immediately offensive.  The problem with Twitter is we all think our opinions are facts.  I have never been able to face Facebook. I am in touch with all of my mates.  I see them.  I don’t have to see them on the internet.”
This must mean she missed all of the social media posts about the Doctor Who announcement including the one “Who needs a Tardis full of bras?’”  We laugh at this. “Well, I’ve missed that good stuff. Who does need a Tardis full of bras?  I wonder which person we could find to say, ‘See, what I really need today is a Tardis full of bras.’
Journeyman opens March 30

Anjelica Huston (January 2018)

I’m at Anjelica Huston’s Los Angeles home. It’s both cosy and luxurious, extremely artistic and totally charming, rather like the woman herself. I am greeted by a fox terrier called Oscar, a Havanese called Pootie and four cats. It’s the day after the Golden Globes. Anjelica, in dark jeans and pink cashmere wonders what I thought of the ceremony.
     She says, “I was not born a #metoo girl. It wasn’t who I wanted to be at school and it’s not what I want to be now –  a snitch. I think it’s a very idealistic idea of young women to think that we’re going to change men because we haven’t done it thus far in history. Nothing has happened since the day they were wearing bearskins and wielding clubs. Men have never changed about certain things. And by the way, you may have noticed last night there were not a lot of mea culpas (men admitting to take the blame).  As long as women go beating on the chests of men with tight little fists this thing is never going to happen.
     Seems like Huston is with the 100 eminent women French school of thought who denounced the #metoo movement as a puritan backlash that treats women as children. Intellectuals, actresses including Catherine Deneuve have come out against the Weinstein inspired scandal amid accusations that men’s careers were being ruined “When their only wrong was touching a knee or stealing a kiss.” They say “far from helping women to become independent, this in reality serves the interest of the enemies of sexual freedom and religious extremists who believe in the name of Victorian morality that women are children with the faces of adults.” They argue that the #metoo generation are chaining women down to be eternal victims. 
     Huston has been round the block with more than one caveman type. “The only way you can get round a man is to behave like you want to be in the cage with the 300-pound gorilla. That’s all. It’s just the way it is.” 
     Huston’s history involves a lot of gorilla taming or at least sitting in the cage. The men in her life have always been giants. Her father John Huston was the ultimate man’s man. He made macho epic movies, liked hunting and womanising, a powerful man who loved and admired Jack Nicholson, her first long term boyfriend. They were together 17 years. Their relationship ended in 1990. Huston was married to the sculptor Robert Graham from – a gentle but nonetheless powerful figure. 
     Huston offers me tea or white wine. It’s the afternoon and I love the old schoolness of the white wine but there’s a pot of medicinal lemon, ginger and honey tea already made and it seems more appropriate. We talk about the start of #metoo and the disgraced Harvey Weinstein and Gwyneth Paltrow’s white towelling bathrobe accusation after more than two decades of appearing on Oscar podiums and yachts with Weinstein. Perhaps #metoo should be changed to #whynow? She laughs.
    “Harvey was always a bully. I was bullied by Harvey, never sexually thank God. The idea, eww. But when his company bought The Grifters I had been living with Jack for a while and Jack never appeared on television talk shows which I thought was a really good idea. I said to Harvey “I don’t do television talk shows…” Well, I did every television talk show there was following that conversation. What can I say? I lost the fight. You shut up and that was that. 
     Of course I was bullied but big deal. For as long as I’ve known them, men have always bullied women. My father bullied me into all kinds of things but also he bullied me into some good things. He bullied me into the first movie I ever made (which he directed – A Walk with Love and Death). It should not have been a horrible thing but I felt that I had to give up my identity, my rather negative identity to do it. I thought I knew a lot better…”
    We weave back to the silent protest of #metoo – the Globes with everyone wearing black. “It was nice for once not to see everyone bathed in colour. It looked quite serious and Oprah – that waist!” She makes a gesture to replicate the tiny corset like waist of Oprah. “She looked great. She spoke very directly and was very powerful.”
     Huston herself was not at the ceremony. “I wasn’t asked to present and I didn’t have much that came out last year but it’s not something I’d want to do. Trawl the red carpet for no reason although I’m shocked at who does.” 
     She pours more tea from the white china pot with green shamrocks. Last year she did a movie called Trouble (out this year) with Theresa Rebeck who is the creator and coproducer of the TV show Smash. 
     “It actually traces back to the Golden Globes 2014. I was sitting at a table. We had been nominated and Theresa said ‘I had no idea this would be so long and boring.’ I said welcome to my world and she said ‘Let’s make some lemonade out of this and glanced across the room where my brother was siting nominated for Magic City and she said ‘How about I write a screenplay for you and your brother?’ I said it should be about a fight and she said ‘What about?’ and I said land. She went off and wrote it. I didn’t do it with Danny because he was busy with something else but I did it with Bill Pullman and David Morris. It’s coming out soon.”
     She also worked with Rashida Jones (daughter of Quincy) and appeared in a couple of episodes of Transparent. “We pluck along,” she shrugs. She is 66, looking elegant, her glossy hair in dark sheets falls past her shoulders.  She has a striking charisma. She doesn’t bemoan the world of acting is tougher for women of a certain age, she doesn’t bemoan ten deaths of close friends that happened last year. She just gets on with it.
     She was delighted when RTE came to her with the idea of presenting a show about James Joyce (Anjelica Huston on James Joyce – A Shout in the Street – BBC Four January 15)
     She grew up in Galway and her father was made an Irish citizen in 1964. Her father’s last movie was The Dead – not one she had to be bullied into doing. “I was very willing to be in that.” The Dead was adapted from Joyce’s selection of short stories The Dubliners. It was the last story and widely considered the best.
    I found the documentary about Joyce intriguing. His story was not one I knew about and I’ve never made it through Ulysses. Huston rather beautifully explains the relationship with his wife Nora, a country girl who grew up in the poor house. Joyce was middle class and broke and allergic to middle class snobbery and they were bonded for life – a bond that grew out of large sexual appetites on both parts.
    I enjoyed the clips from Irish luminaries such as Edna O’Brien.
   “I think she looks 30 years younger than me. She looks amazing. I’ve known Edna for a long time. I’m always surprised when I see her on film how youthful she is and how much she cares. I think August is a wicked month was written about her romance with my father.”
   Her father appears on screen talking about The Dead in a very direct and profound way, yet when he made the film he was in his death throes. He growls onscreen and his words are always particularly resonant for Huston. After her first effort in working with her father she vowed she’d never do it again and she didn’t for 16 years and then in 1985 she won an Oscar for Prizzi’s Honour and then two years later she played Greta in his final film The Dead which was much applauded. 
     “At first my father was the only one who wanted to work with me. I went to acting class, got my thing together and then understood more about the dynamic, that even though he was my father I didn’t have to take everything personally as an actress. We worked well together. We had a good shorthand. He still terrified me to a certain degree and I always wanted to be spot on for him and to be in a position where I would not be humiliated in front of the camera crew. I would do anything not to be so I think it improved my game a bit.
     The Dead came as he was in hospital having an eye operation. I went in every day to see him and his eyes were bandaged up and he asked me to read the script on the nightstand. I saw on the opening page ‘adapted by Tony Huston’ (her brother). I was shocked that this whole thing had gone on and I didn’t know anything about it but I read it and it was great, really good. And he said ‘What do you think? Should we do it?’ He was not only in hospital having his eyes done. He had an aneurysm operation and was having trouble breathing so he had to be on oxygen at all times.
     I remember Donal McCann (her screen husband) coming to meet him and we read a couple of scenes in the house dad was renting and then we went to a warehouse district opposite Magic Mountain in the middle of nowhere to shoot it. None of us had trailers. We had cubicles. When the Irish were waiting to work they waltzed around, they played cards and smoked and went back to their hotel which was called the Black Angus which should have been called The Black Anguish and they learnt line dancing there. It all happened pretty fast.”
     They shot very much in sequence and Huston didn’t have much to do to the last scene when it became her movie.
     “I was sat there all hyped up and nervous. My dad said, ‘honey how’s your horse?’ I said ‘My horse is fine. I was having none of it…We did the scene as a dress rehearsal and he said ‘very good honey now put it in the past’ and that was his one direction for me for that scene.” She smiles, a mixture of love, respect and nostalgia.
     Huston has always been very moved by her own father, possibly because she grew up in a fractured way, sometimes separated from him when he was making movies or had moved on to women other than her mother. There was always a sense of longing. She wrote – very well – a two volume autobiography the first called A Story Lately Told was largely about her father. Was being involved in the documentary about James Joyce a way to get back to him?
     “Oh, he’s always there. Sometimes he’ll crop up almost like a message. The other day a friend of mine was telling me about a house in Ireland that was up for sale right near where we used to live and on the same day my sister Allegra sent me a little piece on my dad becoming a naturalised Irish citizen. Two things together out of the blue… he was talking about the effect of being an Irishman and how his children were feeling about it. I was twelve and my brother was thirteen and he talks about the Irish weather and then the Irish weather (rain and mists) came today.”
     Her home with its cream woodenness, its lush green garden and wet emerald grass all seem very Irish. Huston also has a ranch above Central Valley with some ancient horses, including a brown and white one Charlie who is forty. “He barely has a tooth in his head anymore. We give him special food. All my animals live to be old. I look after them well.”
     Huston is in that way very old school. She looks after things. Her latest Innamorato died last year. The fox terrier was his dog. She was with him for nearly four years. “He was a marvellous man. I knew he was not well but I didn’t know how not well but that became apparent to me. He was also very defiant in the face of his illness. Very courageous and interesting and powerful person. He was an entrepreneur and businessman. He was partner with Norman Lear at one point and organised the Ali fights. His name was Jerry Perenchio.” Perenchio was a big deal in Hollywood. He was an original investor in Caesar’s Palace, was the money man behind Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Driving Miss Daisy. He was 86 when he died of lung cancer last summer.
    We’re back to the theme of powerful men. “They are so much more fun than weak. Weak is annoying and cloying and while it might be fun to rule the roost for a bit, I don’t want to be the one calling the shots. I much prefer to have the shots called and rise to the challenge if there is one. I think I was just fated to be this way because of the way my dad was. He developed in us minor contempt for people who could not carry their own weight or who were shallow or grasping. 
     When my mother died my mother and father weren’t together so he didn’t know what I was up to. He didn’t have a chance to be critical of my boyfriends. The first boyfriend he knew about was Jack and they were deeply in love.” We laugh and snuggle with the lemon, ginger, honey tea and randomly I’m reminded of a story from her book which touched me. After she and Nicholson broke up – she found out that he’d got a woman Rebecca Broussard pregnant while she had been going through IVF treatment herself. The relationship was unpalatable.  A few years later for Christmas for he sent her an exquisite piece of jewellery – a pearl and diamond bracelet that Frank Sinatra had sent to Ava Gardener and with it a note saying ‘these pearls from your swine…yr Jack’.
     She smiles at the recount of this story but is not as undone by it as she once was as she had found it devastatingly charming. “This year for Christmas he got me a scarf from Barneys, very pretty and a mug.” She goes to get it for me. The mug has a picture of Jack on it from the eighties.  It looks ridiculous. We laugh.
     “I know, the mind boggles sometimes.” One minute you’re a powerful man in Hollywood and then the next you’re somebody’s mug.

Denzel Washington (January, 2018)

Denzel Washington & Chrissy Iley 2018

We’re in a high-rise New York hotel room. Outside is bitter cold.  Denzel Washington is wearing an exquisitely tailored black suit and neatly coiffed hair. Very much the opposite to how I’ve just seen him in his new film Roman Israel Esq. It’s about a lawyer who is weirdly brilliant and also just weird. It’s about being a truth teller and how his life becomes undone. For most of the film he wears an oversized burgundy suit that seems to belong to part of the last century and sports a mini fro.

He immediately takes issue. “Burgundy? You think that was a burgundy suit…?” The eyebrows raise. “I thought it was maroon. You don’t think there’s a difference between burgundy and maroon?” He’s straight off the top, on sparkling combative form and continues, “And what do you mean mini fro? That was a fro!”

I tell him of a chance encounter with the film’s hairstylist in the lobby who said ‘it was a collaborative idea. “Huh!” said Washington affronted. “It was my idea and my hair. Mini! That was seven months of hard work. It was the full fro. It was Billy Preston.  I don’t want to talk to you now.” He theatrically folds his arms and leans back into the mock mid-century grey and teak couch.

“I did a lot of work. I should have kept it but they cut it off. Maybe it’s a black community thing. When my first son was born we cut the pieces of hair from his first year and you keep it. I guess it’s like keeping baby teeth.”

But this is adult Washington hair. He is 63 and coming into what he calls “the final quarter”. I’m not sure how his system of quarters works but turning 60 was a landmark for him. He wanted to concentrate on his physical and mental wellbeing, making sure he would explore more of the works of great American playwrights on stage and stay healthy enough for the physical demands. He doesn’t look like he’s nearing his final anything. He has a brooding and charismatic physical presence. He laughs a lot and when he laughs his eyes dart and his smile is very sparkly. He loves to chat. I’m not sure if he loves the process of the interview. Sometimes if he feels he’s being interrogated he just changes the subject completely.

We circle back to the topic of hair. Isn’t it a bit spooky to keep hair? “I didn’t but I should have.” In a way this wasn’t Washington’s hair, it was Roman’s.  The flawed lawyer savant he plays in the eponymously titled Roman Israel Esq. it was a movie written for him by director Dan Gilroy who felt Washington was the only person who could play it. It’s a nuanced and powerful performance which earned him a Golden Globe nomination. Gilroy was inspired by Washington’s 2012 Award winning performance in Flight. Gilroy was excited to see Washington do vulnerable.  The scene that got him was the one at the end where the pilot with a sense of entitlement was brought down and admitted to being an alcoholic.

That kind of vulnerability sustains Washington’s portrayal of Israel throughout the film. He’s generous on the brink of crazy. Smart on the brink of broken. Compulsive about peanut butter sandwiches eaten over the sink and the contents of his old fashioned big iPod.  Somehow, he makes you root for him in the way that only Washington can do. This character is peculiar yet he is so human.

Washington is never one for analysing or at least not in public. He doesn’t so much want to sit down and talk as sit down and play. And remind me of past interviews that I’ve done with him, particularly ones that did not go so well. He looks at me with a ‘Come on what have you got for me?’ expression. He often repeats a question as if he’s been asked it for the very first time but I’m sure there’s not a question he hasn’t been asked. Still we try.

His football team is The Cowboys who were in the news recently for kneeling for the flag as a protest. Owner of The Cowboys threatened to send the kneelers home. What does he think?

He shrugs? “You gotta pay the cost to be the boss. You can take a knee but don’t complain if you go home, you know? It’s a free country. You have the right to protest. Are they being benched? I don’t think so. You can’t bench a whole team.”

Washington dances around the political issue. He’s very wary of being a spokesperson for black issues. He just won’t go there. He’ll try and change the subject but at a talk he gave at the national theatre last year he said, “look black people don’t be talking about what the white man won’t give you. I got roles.”

Washington has been married to Pauletta for 35 years – before his film career began. In public they show the kind of solidarity that comes with being together for such a long time. They have two sons and two daughters, all college graduates. His oldest daughter was a producer in the Oscar nominated Fences in which he both starred and directed.  His oldest son played in the National Football league but now has a TV career. His youngest son graduated from the American Film Institute in directing and worked with Spike Lee and his youngest daughter has made her way in both film and stage.

What advice did he give to his youngest daughter Olivia about her acting? “I actually said be the best, learn to act on stage not film. Don’t compromise, don’t be intimidated. It’s going well for her. She’s just finished the Taming of the Shrew with the Chicago Shakespeare Company. She is a working actress,” he says proudly.

As the father of a 26-year-old daughter does he worry about the entertainment industry? Does he worry about the recent revelations where the powerful have abused the vulnerable? He’s nodding sagely. Does he think that the #metoo backlash will have a significant effect on the way the industry works?

“I’m sure it already has. I’m sure there are those who thought they could get away with anything and they don’t feel that now. I mean I hope they don’t. I think it will change the industry for good. Hmm Harvey,” he reminisces. “It’s about 10 years. I haven’t talked to Harvey in about 10 years.” And with that Weinstein is dismissed.

Washington is next up in a play on Broadway – The Eugene O’Neill heartbreaker The Iceman Cometh. A play for which the now disgraced Kevin Spacey received plaudits. How does he feel about stepping into Spacey’s shoes? “Whoah,” says Washington. “I’m not!” his eyes ignite with ferocity.

But he’s playing the same character. “And?” he laughs. “I’ve played Othello and you don’t think about the other actors who have played Othello. There have been many Othello’s.”

Some people have made or at least remade their career on playing that role. I was thinking Lenny Henry. “Yes I heard about that man. In fact I heard about him doing Fences. I’m glad to hear that Othello reinvented him because he was a comedian. I met him in the eighties at one of those Nelson Mandela concerts. Lenny Henry and Ben Elton were the MC’s. it was a big concert to raise money for Mandela’s children’s fund.”

Just this morning I saw Washington on the news talking about parts that he didn’t get. He almost didn’t get Cry Freedom. Attenborough said ‘If I don’t find an African you’ll do.’ “I don’t remember it like that. It was more like a meeting but I came in prepared to audition and it was a good meeting.”

So Washington’s come a long way from maybe you’ll do to having a movie written for him. “That’s what I’m hearing now. I’m glad I didn’t know that ahead of time.” Why? Because he would have felt too responsible? Too burdened?

“I don’t know.” (Director) Gilroy had said if Washington wouldn’t do it he would have shelved the project. “Yeah I’ve heard that.”

Washington does this often, distances himself from compliments, distances himself from responsibility – he knows deep down it really is all about him. It’s just that he doesn’t want to know.

I tell him that I was at a Bafta Q&A where Gilroy said he had an epiphany moment while watching Washington’s performance in Flight the way he balanced power and vulnerability and that’s when he wanted to play someone who was flawed.

Washington of course doesn’t know how to take this compliment but simply says “Oh really, that’s excellent. Would you like a gummy bear?” He offers me one from a jar on the coffee table separating us. He sees me poke around and asks me, “Does colour matter to you? You see I’ve been stealing all the red ones.” He arranges the pot of gummy bears out on the table so we can see the colours. “What’s your second pick if you don’t get a red one?” Orange. “Yes!” he says excitedly. “Orange is the obvious second choice, but sometimes I like to go for the yellow one. It’s kind of neutral. But look at this! A pink one.” I take the pink one. “Roman would know exactly how many were in there, the calorific intake of each one and what was the law behind the company that made them. Roman was trouble, poor guy. Just trouble.”

I would have said he was more troubled than trouble. “Mmm…” Washington savours the thought. Gilroy said Washington came up with the idea of making him obsessed with peanut butter sandwiches.

“Dan started adding jars of peanut butter everywhere. I came in one day and there were 20 jars in my kitchen so the idea must have been collaborative.”

So much peanut butter though. Can he ever eat it again? “I didn’t actually eat much of it. I like peanut butter though but peanut butter and honey. Do you know the actor Delroy Lindo? He and I went to theatre school together – The American Conservatory.  We didn’t have much money. We had bread, half a gallon of milk, peanut butter and a jar of honey and that’s what we would live off for a week.”

Didn’t he get bored with it? “That suggests I had options. I was more bored of starving. Washington grew up in Mount Vernon, a suburb of New York. His mother was as hairdresser, his father an ordained preacher. His mother saw that he fell in with a bad crowd at school and sent him to a strict military school. He doesn’t see much of his three best friends from school anymore. At least a couple of them have ended up as bad boys. “We used to ride the trains together, jump the turnstiles, go into town and hang out. When I did Julius Caesar on Broadway one showed up at the play. He’d been in the penal system for 28 years. Another one died, the third one is a chef doing OK and I am the fourth one.” Quite a difference between four friends. Washington has a primary school in New York named after him. 10 years ago, the Columbian Gorillas insisted they were only prepared to release three hostages if Washington was the negotiator. Washington is of course more than an actor and a director and sometimes he speaks like he too has been ordained. And the rest of the time he jokes around.

Three years ago he gave up alcohol on his 60th birthday. “I just had enough. Some things you can have enough of. Not peanut butter yet but all alcohol. I gave it up on my birthday 3 years ago December 28th with the idea of putting my best foot forward I tried everything else, let’s try this.”

He wanted to make his final quarter a healthier one? “Yes, yes. That too,” he says, now studying the gummy bears that remain –  mostly green and a weird white one.

Alcohol stopped giving him pleasure. He still likes boxing. He first discovered it when he played boxer Ruben “The Hurricane” Carter in the movie Hurricane. And has made it part of his regime. He looks powerful of course – tall, strong, but at the same time there’s something very soft and endearing. He’s a music fanatic too and was advisor on the movie’s soundtrack which is a mixture of 70’s classics and cool jazz.

“My character is constantly listening to music so I just liked to use different songs so that we could build a library of what my character would listen to. We had 28,000 songs.” Does he have a vintage large iPod in real life? “I have all of the iPods pretty much.”

So just as you’ve got Washington down as this one-time bad boy who now likes to look after himself, the survivor of the friends, the one who remained the ultimate cool dude, he reminds you of a religious experience he had. I’d never thought of Washington following his father’s footsteps. I’d always had him down as more of a rebel but he is in fact there is a religious side to him and at one point he says the Holy Ghost came inside of him.

“Yes,” he says matter of factly. I ask him why is he making this sound as if it’s normal. “Well, you know, I was in church and in church at the end of the service they ask if you want to go into the prayer room and they talk about speaking in tongues and then – other than the overwhelming power of the experience what I remember is letting go. Not having any doubt. Not being cynical, just thinking OK let’s go for it and see what happens so yes I spoke in tongues.”

What exactly does this mean? He spoke in different language? “Yeah a foreign tongue and I remember calling my mother afterwards. I remember sweating and getting really emotional and I remember calling my ma and saying this is what happened and she said ‘oh yes that’s right.’ And I said my cheeks filled up and she said ‘that was a purge. Purging the bad spirits coming out of you.’ She was very, not matter of fact because this was serious but she was giving the explanations to the things I had experienced very calmly. Things I didn’t understand and she explained to me so succinctly and that seemed to be proof it was something she had seen and experienced before. She could describe it without having seen it. I think we get far away from what’s natural when some things hit us. We think they are actually supernatural but you have to allow it, be open. It’s not like I’m the expert on it cos there’s lots of things I don’t know.”

Does he think he was ready for it? “It was ready for me. It was actually a bit overwhelming. I was like wait a minute. I’m not ready for this whole commitment.”  When did this happen? Was it in the 80’s? “Actually I’m not sure. I just remember thinking does this mean I can’t go to the club? Does this mean I can’t have wine and the answer was no. I had lots of wine through most of the 80’s as I recall.”

Did it change him in any way? “It gave me concrete proof that the Holy Spirit exists and that it’s real. No question about it. I’ve gone back there and I wonder did they let some mist off in the room that gave you a funny feeling? I don’t know. I remember some people in the room not going through the experience I had but it was real for me.”

His mother had an experience in her hairdressers where one of her clients wrote in automatic writing about Washington’s future. He corrects, “Well I don’t know if it was automatic writing but she had a prophecy which was that I would preach. She said I would preach to millions of people.” Well he does, kind of. “Kind of, yes.”

His phone rings and he jokes, “ah that’ll probably be my mom now…the prophecy also said that I would travel the world and that through my work I would speak to millions of people. At this time in my life I’m now unafraid to talk about it. She said that I would have millions of followers. Maybe she meant thousands and then added too many zeros. Maybe she said I was actually going to preach to ten people ha ha ha. I try not to use the word preaching. It sounds like I know more than you. I’m just sharing my experience.”

Preacher or not, he is a kind of mentor to Ashton Sanders who was in Moonlight. He’s working with him now in The Equaliser. “I don’t know if I’d use that word but I like him and he’s very talented. He’s a good kid and I’ve been where he’s going. He’s talking about how things are changing for him. You know how his friends are changing. I’ve been down that road.”

Does he mean that he has to readjust his circle of friends and get rid of the users? “No, not anything like that.” It’s just who does he talk to? Who has walked the walk he’s walking? “Of course I don’t tell him what to do but I can share.”

We have spoken before that he might have walked a different walk had his mother not taken him out of school that time. “Yes, that’s true.  Two of those friends did jail time and the other one lost his teeth. That was a few years ago now. I got him some good teeth but I haven’t seen him recently. I have one or two old friends from my twenties not that far back. When I moved to LA I stayed friends with all the people I came up with in the 80’s.”

Are they actors? “No.” I read somewhere that said Washington is not friendly with any white actors. He looks at me with an ‘as if’. “That’s not what I said and I don’t even remember what I was asked. I might have said I wouldn’t surround myself with just acting friends and he twisted it.”

People are saying that last year was the Black Oscars because the year before it was all super white. “What do you mean the Black Oscars? What people say this? Who are these people?” I suppose media people say that there were more black nomination in 2017 to counteract the year before when there were none.  He looks at me as if I’ m mad, shrugs and says, “we’ll see what happens… None of it’s up to me. I’ve done my job.”

Does he care about awards? “Of course people care about them. First of all, it’s an opportunity for the industry to celebrate those who have achieved. I don’t know if it’s a measuring stick… I remember they all used to go to Swifty Lazar’s party at Spago’s after the awards. There used to be a parking lot and you could drive up and look down over Spago’s and I remember seeing people going in – Warren Beatty and people like that and I said to myself someday I’m going to get in there. It wasn’t so much about getting the award, it was like I wasn’t invited to the party and I needed to be.” He laughs. “One day I’ll be able to get in there I said.”

Now they don’t have parties at Spago’s. That particular Spago’s doesn’t even exist anymore but I think we can say if it did he would definitely be at the party. Does he think when he looked down he manifested his award-winning future? “No I think I was already headed that way.” Was he always driven? “Yes, driven but you know you can get bored and sometimes you have to reboot or refresh. Like going back to theatre woke me up. When I went back to Broadway I was like oh I remember now.”

He rebooted his Broadway career with Julius Caesar in 2005 and then there was Fences and A Raisin in the Sun. I saw him in a packed out short run of the latter with my mother. I think we paid $700 per ticket.

I wonder if he loved Obama as much as I did. Does he think that the US will ever recover from the loss? He looks puzzled. “What do you mean recover?”

Obama was a good guy in charge. A good President and a good man and now we have the opposite. “Well it’s early days yet…” Really? At this point the Fire and the Fury had not been released but Trump had pulled a few corkers like the flight ban from certain countries and not quite being able to explain his relationship with Russia and his potty mouth on Twitter.

“It’s not like Barack and I are old pals you know. I think he watched someone and was inspired by someone and someone will be inspired by him.”

Does he really think that the current regime is inspiring? “Is it not?” he says ambiguously. OK, politics is not an inspiring conversation point for Washington. Although he’s sat in front of me, in his head he’s already left the room.  Although he looked pretty mesmerised while watching Oprah’s Golden Globes speech. Ostensibly it was her acceptance speech for her Cecille B De Mille award but many are viewing its galvanising passion as a bid to run for the presidency in 2020. In response to the #metoo audience all wearing black she spoke about how speaking your truth is the most powerful thing to do and warned the abusers, “Time is up.” But then he comes back to explain his position on the black president followed by the orange one.

“There’s a pastor talked about this. I think his name is A R Barnard and I think it’s Daniel Chapter 10.  He says that God puts Kings in a place for a season and reason and we don’t always know the reason so this is what it is right now. There’s a reason behind it and I say to people if nothing else we should be more unified. All the more reason to work together.”  He beams, rather godlike and then laughs. And it’s one final gummy bear before he goes.

Andrea Riseborough (Sunday Times Magazine, October 2017)

    Andrea Riseborough chooses to meet in her local diner. It’s unpretentious and a little retro.  They know her in there, they know automatically to give her the cup of hot water for her own tea bag (Twinings Darjeeling). I almost don’t recognise her. She’s such a chameleon. Today she’s wearing an oversized printed shirt and underneath a pale vest. A necklace that says Fuck Off and multiple quirky rings. Her blonde, feathery, punky hair peaks from an undersized black fedora. She’s wearing shiny skinny jeans, black and short cowboy boots.  Of course she’s nothing like her screen characters which are often old school glamorous. She was ethereal in Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution and first carved a niche with a standout portrayal of Wallis Simpson in WE and Margaret Thatcher in The Long Walk to Finchley. She was riveting in Channel 4’s National Treasure where she played the somewhat broken daughter of a celebrity accused of abuse played by Robbie Coltrane. 
    She’s up next in The Battle of the Sexes – she plays Billie Jean King’s lover Marilyn Barnet. It’s set in the seventies where King played by Emma Stone was enraged by the difference in pay for male and female tennis grand slammers.  Steve Carell plays the misogynistic tennis player Bobby Riggs.
     She’s super charismatic and very small framed. Her shoulders are toned and move with the ease of a dancer.  Like me she is Geordie born and bred, 36, left high school without university to run a Chinese restaurant and then it was RADA. Part intellectual, part rebel, part hard, part soft. 
    I tell her I love her necklace which says ‘fuck off’ in squirly gold writing. An ironic twist on those ones that were popular in the sex and the city era that said Carrie.      
     “But I quite like the word cunt. I think it’s liberating. I think that word needs to be re-empowered. There’s no need for it to be an evil thing.” Fuck off and cunt are not words for California living. Here everything’s more tempered, less extreme in a way. It’s an odd place for someone as audacious as Riseborough to have settled. “I know everything is incredibly offensive here in America. It’s puritanical but I specifically love the west coast because of the weather. It’s honestly changed my life because the sun makes everything better.” 
     Riseborough has SAD and therefore gets depressed if there’s too much greyness.  But instead she orders a peanut butter shake, no whip with extra peanut butter.  We order sweet potato fries to share. It arrives and it looks like blonde cement. “I eat everything. I eat anything I want. That’s the best plan.” She says this yet she’s tiny, like a ballerina, much tinier than she looks on the screen. 
     “That’s an interesting point of discussion. I’m from a family of small framed women but I was talking to a producer friend about the wide screen format. It made men look huge. It made Marlon Brando look huge and he wasn’t it made Bogart look buff and he was a tiny little guy. It even made Frank Sinatra large when he wasn’t but for women it stretched us out and rather than changing the format of film they wanted to change the size of women and make them even smaller. When you think about that objectively that’s really fucked right? 
     There was definitely a time where I would work more when I was slimmer.” It’s hard to imagine her slimmer. There’s literally nothing of her. 
     “I had a few male casting directors say you’d get the part if you were thinner or in better shape. Something like that. It’s totally ridiculous. You get to a certain age where you feel so angry about it. I just want to be part of good work so I don’t focus on it anymore. You can’t pin your self-worth on someone who’s met you for 25 minutes. 
     I was talking to my agent this morning about a scene some time ago where I was told to go home and I was confused because I thought there was to be a love scene. They said we need somebody with a different body type. So this girl came in with a beautiful body and a scar all the way across her face. Ironic isn’t it? Using the best bits and pieces of women to present to the world, only to make women feel worse about themselves. I’m very blessed to have my body. I don’t hate my body in any way but I thought what’s happening when they brought this girl in and filmed it from behind? I would never take shit like that now.”
     It seems like you have to play the game to get to a certain point but if you keep playing it you’ll never get to where you want to be.  She muses. “Have you seen the original edition of Germaine Greer’s Female Eunuch? (She has a copy) It calls her ‘the saucy feminist that even men like’. Soul destroying right?” We nod, we laugh. 
     Does she think that the film industry is getting more misogynistic? “It’s getting worse. Why are some people being employed?” Her hot water arrives and she dips in her Darjeeling. 
     Recently I did a shoot where I’ve never seen so many angry men on a crew. That’s why I run an all-female film company and we do very well in terms of the amount of time it takes to shoot, the lack of ego and nobody stands with their legs 3 feet apart as if they’re guarding the Roman wall.” 
     Her film company is called Mother Sucker and they have just made their first film. It’s called Nancy (who Riseborough plays) – it’s the story of a woman who lives in a house with a cat called Paul and her deeply abusive mother and thousands of copies of National Geographic. “The basic premise of the company was to give more people opportunities.”
  We circle back to the angry men set?  I assumed it was some time ago? “No, it was recent with a very reputable production company that you wouldn’t think would be like that.  That’s where the disconnect lies. Women can be DPs but it all starts with girls’ education. They’re never taught to rewire a plug, things like that. 
     You don’t want to compromise your work just to get it made but if it’s been made by 350 crotch scratching guys who couldn’t give a shit it’s difficult. 
     The other day I was doing this very horrible extraordinary scene. I was being raped and some guy was just trying to charge his phone in front of me. I was screaming and crying and about to have this big argument about polygamy. I am the female lead and eventually I had to say ‘you are annoying me’.
  “If you are the lead woman you feel the responsibility to tell the story and there’s a guy trying to charge his phone in front of you because he spent the entire shoot playing Candy Crush, it’s hard.”
   How perfect that Riseborough is starring in a film that deals directly with reinvigorating feminism – Battle of the Sexes. Emma Stone is already tipped for a second Oscar. “It is brilliant. I’ve seen it. I don’t normally watch things that I’m in.  I didn’t used to read reviews in theatre, when you are in a play it’s ever evolving and I wanted my notes to be from the director otherwise you could get bombarded and take everyone’s notes and not know where you’re going. My other fear was that would be good reviews and I would sabotage it. Do you know what I mean? That all the life would be sucked out of it. 
     So when I started making film, which had not been a plan of mine, I still didn’t watch things. My expectations of myself have always been a little skewed. Maybe they’re too high. Maybe they’re too low.”
   Maybe it’s a north eastern thing. It’s ingrained in Geordie DNA not to be too much of a narcissist. “We were the ones being raped and pillaged and the borders were always moving and we don’t know who we belong to so yes that’s in it and I think it’s a female thing to internalise rather than lash out – they’ll lash in and you think I could have done it better. Self-flagellation can be painful. So watching The Battle of the Sexes is one of the first things I’ve watched in a really long time. Steve (Carell) was incredible. You see a man who is pretending to be more of a misogynist than he actually is. He’s really broken.  The point they’re making in the movie is still relevant. 
     Gal Godot who has just played Wonder Woman was paid nowhere near as high as Chris Pine. I saw in the press that she got paid $300,000 and he got paid $14,000,000. The argument is that he’s done Star Trek and he’s a big name who can get the film made.  And he makes films about white straight men.”
    “You can’t keep saying but he’s getting the film made. That might be entirely true and it might be the bond company’s business but we still need to have more equal pay. When will they start making films about black men and white women? Think Dunkirk.” (All white men). She’s very calm when she talks about this. It’s an issue that she feels sorely but has thought over a lot. She’s measured if it’s possible to be measured and angry about something at the same time.  “I think it’s healthy to have a bit of anger and also a bit of acceptance otherwise it drives you mad.”
  The Battle of the Sexes is still being played out. “In every way.” The movie is also a love story.  “Basically when Billie Jean was on tour she met a woman who was a hair stylist so the story is slightly changed/modified.  But the story is thrilling and also sweet. There are many elements of the lesbian love affair that came up. How difficult it was in the life of Billie Jean King being married and the whole thing being in secret. We made this incredibly dramatic love story. We had great chemistry and it was exciting.”
   Stone and Riseborough were friends already. They met when they made Birdman which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2015. There were a few sex scenes. “One main one and a couple of physically intimate moments.” 
     What’s the difference between doing a sex scene with a man and a woman? “Ah. Good question. I think the feeling is much more comfortable with a woman and it feels good to be kissing someone around your own age, not 30 years older than you. It helped that we knew each other but that would be the case if it were a man or a woman.”
     There’s more toying of the sweet potato fries, although it’s me that’s eating most of them, as I imagine her concrete drink is quite filling. This is quite a moment in time for Riseborough. She’s got several big movies coming out – Battle of The Sexes, Nancy, The Death of Stalin, big TV series WACO,(based on true David Koresh’s religious compound and how it came under siege, with the Weinstein Company) andBlack Mirror and even more lined up. 
     The Death of Stalin is already receiving outstanding praise – directed by Armando Iannucci. “It’s difficult to describe in the way that Birdman was difficult to describe. It excites me because it’s brutal and also hysterical. I play Svetlana, Stalin’s daughter. When he died the world panicked. They found him on the floor after a seizure and they brought in doctors. They weren’t sure if he was dead or alive but they didn’t tell anyone.  They put him in a bed. Drank, smoked, played chess for three days.  Steve Buscemi plays Khrushchev. It’s such a dark performance. 
     I was so flattered when Armando asked me. She’s a really interesting character. She escaped to the American Embassy in Delhi and ended up dying on her own in an apartment in Wisconsin.” 
     Her voracious appetite for work is a complete contrast to a few years ago where she decided to take a long break which turned out to be two years. “I decided to write a book but I didn’t think it through. When I went back to acting it was such a relief. I hadn’t expected that I would find such a sense of purpose in it again, joy even. I think I’d gone a little off track.”
     She puts the off track-ness down to “the studio system. I got a little upset with the studio system.” It was not only the body double incident but also when she received a text from a producer of a film that read “we hear that you’re not comfortable wearing breast pads.” “Let’s just say I felt disenchanted and I ended up wearing them.  I think it’s questionable to put hundreds of millions of dollars into something that perpetuates misogyny. Will people throw their deepest desires and imaginative creations under the bus in order to get something made? Once you make an industry of art, you need money to make things. And there are all kinds of people who need to make a living but those people generally aren’t the artist. So there has been lots of compromises but that’s why I started Mother Sucker. A beautiful thing came out of something that was really painful. I have no explanation of why it feels good to work with other women but there’s something that feels right about it and I’ve just finished adapting Hamlet as an all-female cast. I’ve written it myself.”
What happened to the novel? “I don’t know. I ended up going back to work and I picked some things that I really like artistically and I’ve worked a lot since then. I can’t talk about the novel. I like to keep it very separate. I haven’t come to a conclusion about it. On the whole I have no plan. I tend to just go on instinct. I’m about to make a movie with Nicolas Cage. It’s called Beyond The Black Rainbow and the director is Panos Cosmatos. He has an incredible aesthetic. Kubric like.”
With Riseborough there’s never been a hint of typecasting. Her roles are always entirely different. Dark, comedic, love story, tragedy, polemic. Sometimes all at once. 
     Even though movie’s she’s been in have been nominated for BAFTA’s, SAGs, Oscars and she’s at the top of her game, she’s not instantly recognisable.  She is a shape shifter on screen and a purposeful chameleon.  No one knows the colour of her real hair. At the moment it’s a platinum, punkish pixie crop.  “I’m about to play someone with long, straight black hair and it does deeply affect your mood. I wear a lot of wigs and to be able to take the character off at the end of the day is just wonderful. I’m very interested in transforming. I’m interested in how people move and speak, getting somebody’s rhythm. If you just put a wig on you can look like someone in a wig. It’s all about embodying someone and moving differently.”
     Some actresses for instant can put wigs on but their face doesn’t change because they’ve had so much Botox. Riseborough nods sympathetically. “There’s a huge amount of pressure on women to be cryogenically frozen in time because people are telling us that we’re too old to play opposite someone who is the same age. It’s really a pressure. It’s like having a baby in the sixties. You’re never going to make the pay grade. I’ve always seemed to be able to transform. As a little kid I always found it easy to mimic people. I’m a trained dancer so I’ve always had good control of my body.”
     Growing up her parents were not rich but they had enough money to send her and her sister Laura to one of the area’s best private schools – Church High. They wore bottle green uniforms.  She said she was quite a geek at school. She looked forward to learning about literature and would walk around the school when it was empty touching its ancient walls, feeling grateful, hoping that she would find her people.  As a teenager she had somewhat of a rebellion. She dropped out of A Levels in order to help run an Asian restaurant. 
     She said if she could choose her last meal it would be white rice with chilli sauce. The blandness and the fire, the white and the red. But she’s all about the extremes. 
     “After seven hours of being on your feet shredding duck it’s very comforting to have white sticky rice with the most delicious chilli sauce that we made in the restaurant.”
     After growing up in Newcastle and attending RADA in London (her class was Amanda Hale White Queen, Andy Buchan Broadchurch, Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager), she moved to Idaho which seemed odd. Why?  “My ex boyfriend’s family is there.” Her ex-boyfriend was ex graffiti artist Joe Apelle. “We went to visit and I said Joe, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could have a place in the mountains. So we bought a place, cheap as chips, 9 acres of land, 5 bedroom house $200,000. 14 miles north of Boise. No one wants to live there. All we could see was ten thousand Christmas trees. It was a great place to write.”
     There’s the extreme things again. Working in La La Land, living in Christmas tree land.  
     Even with a spray tan from a recent photo shoot she remains one of the whitest women in Hollywood. She describes her skin as “mortuary slab white” and feels uncomfortable in its ever so light golden glow. Other than that she straddles the world of actress, writer, northern Brit living in LA pretty well. She must have been quite isolated living in Idaho. She must have really noticed the extremes of life.
     “Yes. There was one time where I did a particularly hellish press tour. Joe came with me. We stayed in the Savoy for two weeks which sounds extremely privileged and then going home to Idaho which was so quiet and clean, without being charged £70 to wash your pants. I just love the extremes.  I’m from the north of England so of course I’m going to wash my shit in the sink but some people actually use the cleaning service.”
     She moved out of Idaho when she and Apelle broke up. “It was just painful to be on my own in that house without him and also for him to be there and me to be somewhere else so we decided to let go of the house and I actually haven’t been back yet cos it’s too painful. When I do go back, perhaps it will be a healing experience. I loved him very much and he’s an amazing person and an amazing artist. He’s the only person I’ve ever dated who I don’t talk to on a regular basis. I just need the space to get over it really… I guess I’m over it as much as I ever will be. I haven’t seen him in years and I think if I saw him it would hit me like a ton of bricks but I’ve been in love since.”
Is she in love now? “Maybe?” Is because she doesn’t know or maybe because she doesn’t want to tell me? 
     “I’m clear about whether I am or not. I may not even be with this person but you can be in love with someone without being with them, right? We’re both single and available. Nothing inappropriate. He’s here for today.  Love’s a funny old thing. After Joe and I broke up I couldn’t imagine being in love but that was four years ago. I absolutely thought we were gonna spend the rest of our lives together and he did as well. It just didn’t work out that way.” 
     She talks wistfully and lovingly about Patti Smith and Joan Didion (who she also loves). “She writes in rhythm, right? It’s almost an iambic pentameter. 
    She thinks that British television has a lot more integrity than American television and is very enthusiastic about Black Mirror that she has just shot in Iceland. 
     “British television is wonderful. It’s like doing a play. So refreshing. It’s odd that she’s so staunchly opposed to women being told to change their bodies for parts yet in her breakout role as Wallis Simpson in Madonna’s WE, she actually chose to lose weight to play the woman who said you can never be too rich or too thin. “Madonna didn’t ask me to.”   
     It was an extreme diet. “I used to cry in bed at night because I was so hungry. I was eating very cleanly but I wouldn’t say healthily. Healthy is eating whatever you want. I remember eating almonds and green shit. Four months of only shopping in Wholefoods. Nobody told me to do it. It was at my discretion. I had a female director and she would never have asked me to do that but Wallis was so thin. She was the size my grandmother was when she died – four and a half stone. I don’t think I ever made it past seven but I’m not short. I’m five foot, five and a half and it definitely was a lot of work. I did a lot of exercise and I was probably physically fitter than I’ve ever been.  I managed to get through it but I had to conserve all my energy to carve out the emotional landscape. I was feeling pretty tired most of the time.”
    Whatever extreme situation she puts herself in she maintains the comfort of the childhood friends that she grew up with.  “In fact I’m still friends with people who were born in the same ward of the same hospital. When you go through the years and you’re all doing different things there can be times where you’re less close and times where you’re closer but all of our friendships have only grown and I have never felt as close to those childhood friends as I feel now. We speak all the time. Facetime has been amazing for that. It’s completely changed the world and I’ve never been closer to my mum and dad. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone on the phone than in person. I don’t know why. LA is so vast and it’s so hard to get from one side to the other but there’s always time to Facetime.”
     You wouldn’t have expected her to have embraced LA the way she has, to love the sun yet stay white.  “I feel so brown at the moment. It might be dirt.”  If anything she’s a little uncomfortable with being off white. She doesn’t care about fitting in. She is after all white rice with chilli sauce.

Idris Elba (Sunday Times Magazine, Aug. 13, 2017)

Chrissy Iley & Idris Elba
Chrissy Iley and Idris Elba

What is it about Idris Elba? Everyone seems to be in love with him. Certainly I was hooked on his TV series Luther where he played good copy/bad cop all in one.  Luther was tough and smart but also haunted. You see this haunted quality in his work and in the man himself quite a lot. You also see that he likes to deliver dichotomy to his roles.  In The Wire he was a vile Baltimore drug kingpin but utterly beguiling. His Mandela was as ruthless as it was heartfelt (for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe in 2014).

His latest role as the gunslinger in The Dark Tower also shows him as haunted but extremely violent – a hero with brutality. He enjoys al this multi-dimensional stuff. He enjoys not being pinned down. It’s his art form. The Gunslinger is based on the Stephen Kings books and King himself talks about the Gunslinger as being a concentrated force, a reticent hero and that Elba was perfect for the part.

When you meet him you see that force.

He’s a thinker, onscreen and off. He’s always weighing things up, eyes rolling. I met him several years ago socially. He was a friend of a friend, we were in the Soho House Los Angeles. It was post Luther, pre Mandela, TV star, pre film star but he carried himself with a shuddering presence. We talked about being only children – probably my attempt to bond or flirt.  All the obvious things like if you’re on your own it’s good for developing imaginary characters, a sense of self, a sense of independence but it also makes you selfish and not good at sharing.  He remembers the next part of the story slightly differently. There was a plate of cookies which we both pounced on and both announced that we never share dessert. He says he let me have them.

Today I’m waiting for him in a chic London hotel in Soho, the waiting room has a cookie plate but only the chocolate macaroons are good so I order a plate of just the chocolate macaroons. Then I’m summoned to Elba’s suite. Guess what? He has a plate of only the chocolate macaroons. Nobody has to share. Good.

He doesn’t look like he’s been indulging in too much chocolate recently. He lost a lot of weight when he was on an extreme diet for a year of kick boxing – proper matches, the lot. He looks svelte in his stone coloured ribbed sweater and navy slacks. He’s narrow hipped. I tell him he’s much thinner than I expected and he complained that I was inferring he used to be fat in that typical I’m not going to take a compliment from you kind of way.

He’s chatty and distant all at once. Extremely tired because two days after we meet he is to start shooting on his first film in a directorial role, Yardie, based on the book by Victoria Headley set in London in the late 80s, charting the life of a boy who comes from Jamaica. Maybe he’s a little daunted.

“No not really” he shakes his head. And there’s the thing. He is available then unavailable, all in a moment. It’s completely tantalising because when he’s there he’s 100% there, present, fills the room, fills every pore of himself and he fully connects with you. His presence is so strong and so sexy you could bottle it, call it Idris and it would sell out, but the unavailable thing – he courts it, treasures it. He has over one million followers on Instagram yet follows no one. Connected and disconnected, see what I mean. Elba grew up in London, Hackney on an infamous estate called Holly Street – later on the family moved further east to Newham. His father, originally from Sierra Leone worked a variety of poorly paid jobs. His mother from Ghana also worked hard at many unrewarding jobs. They were strict and aspirational as parents. They liked rules and had hard work ethic instilled into Elba, who’s always throwing himself into something. No switch off button. Life was hard and rough. The kind of place where, “I got run over once and they just drove off. But I stayed out of trouble on the straight and narrow and my parents were very protective.”

His father wanted him to be a footballer. “Even though he didn’t think English kids were as good as African footballers.” Was he any good? “Yeah but if I hadn’t been into acting it would have been music. Although I was in all the sports teams, drama was more cool. He passed the audition to get into the National Youth Theatre but his mother said he couldn’t go because he didn’t have the money.  His drama school teacher advised to him to apply for a grant from The Princes Trust. “Without that £1500 I don’t know what I would have become. It got me into drama school.”

When he prepped to become Mandela he ended up recording an album with some South African musicians which inspired the documentary Mandela, My Dad and Me.  His father died just before the movie was released and he linked Mandela, international freedom fighter and his dad, the union guy, to be the inspiration for it. Mandela’s family invited Elba to the private funeral. There he was with every world leader and when it was announced that here was the man who recently portrayed Nelson Mandela, people clapped. “All I heard was Elba, my old man’s name…”

As an only child he was close to both of his parents. I don’t detect anything but love and respect when he talks about them, although he is happy on his own. “You make up your own language. You make up your own friends.”

He tells me softly, “I’ve become less selfish now. I like sharing. I like the feeling of sharing more.” Why is that because it’s a new feeling? “Yeeeah,” he laughs, a big old laugh. “It’s different!”

How different? We have our own separate plates of chocolate macaroons. “Well it would be rude of me to offer you any of those they’re just a bunch of crumbs now. You’d be ‘no thanks mate!’” On the contrary. I’d take his crumbs.

He looked in splendid form as the gunslinger Roland Deschain in the Dark Tower. In the movie he says things like “I shoot with my mind and I don’t kill with a gun. I kill with my heart.” He is a gunslinger with depth and troubles. A similar kind of vibe to his character in Luther which he’s about to start making another four part series. Even though we all thought Luther had ended, The BBC tagline to the new series is “The face at the window. The hand under the bed. The shadow at the end of the street. Who’s going to stop them, if not John Luther?”

“Interesting you saw them both that way and you’re right. Luther is a haunted man, character and Roland Deschain is a haunted man. It’s true. He’s also a loner and he’s a very good gunslinger. He’s haunted because he’s the last of his kind which makes him responsible for the salvation of Dark Tower.  “Everything has been taken away from him and he is on a quest for vengeance – it’s become part of him and his consciousness. I do like the action and I really get into that. I’m really into the fight sequences. I love the choreography of it. Being able to work out these really complicated moves and then learning it and doing it again and again. I really love that!  It was a tough film to make but after all is said and done, I’m very glad that I made it.”

Do you know the Stephen King books at all? Not that the movie’s anything like the books. The books are very cerebral, very descriptive, very deep. You can really get into the wormholes. It’s based on eight books, each one of them 700 pages.”

Elba is undaunted by this. He’s very much a reader.  Our conversation wanders to discussing Netflix. We think we’ve seen everything on Netflix as well.  Elba is a man with an appetite.  At one stage of his life he read the book The Alchemist by Paul Coehlo twice a year because he found it transformative.  Every time?  He nods.

“It’s a story that reminds me to pay attention to being present. There are things to remember in your own life, sort of counting your blessings. Seeing something that you might deem as a bad thing at the time actually propels you forward. It’s clever and I think it can touch people. I first read it when I was 22/23.”

Was that the living in a van period? He spent a while homeless in New York looking for acting work. He did this because he thought the Big Apple had more diversity, more parts.

Back then in the early nineties, British black actors seemed to struggle to land leading roles. They were always the drug dealer or the gigolo.

He recollects. “My van period in New York was later.” Early in my acting career was when the book was really good to read.” Was that because it was hard starting out and he had to see disappointments as opportunity to survive? “That’s right.” He pulls at his beard. It’s an unconscious twiddle. And then he suddenly looks nostalgic, sad even and I wonder the haunted gunslinger, the haunted Luther – how much of this is haunted Idris?.  Is it just because he loves identifying with other people’s hauntedness? Or perhaps because he seems not to prefer not to answer questions in full sentences

“I’m not sure. If I think honestly about my characters…” his voice trails.  He’s thinking. “Luther is haunted and now this character, but I don’t think I am haunted so it’s not a trait, but I like to think that characters who have something of a past they suppress are interesting to play because there are a lot of different dynamics.”

He even made the sea lion in Finding Dory seem like an angry outsider. He laughs and does his cockney sea lion performance where he played up against his Wire co-star Dominic West. “No I’m not haunted. I feel I’m an open spirit. I’m not really afraid of anything.”

He certainly likes to test his fear muscles. In 2015 he not only entered the arena of kickboxing, he learnt how to drag race and broke a land speed driving record. As well as this he writes, he directs, he DJ’s, he raps, he sings, he lives dangerously.

“I feel like fear is a really boring waste of time.” Logically of course it is but fear is illogical.  How does he rationalise, diminish it? “It’s a muscle. It’s an exercise. It’s pushing the uncomfortable zone, going past the comfort zone. I think being an actor you get asked to do lots of things that are outside your comfort zone. Trepidation happens when you’re in your trailer and you go onset and do it. That’s the process and I’ve gone through it a few times.” And you’re saying it served you well? “Yes, I suppose so.” But isn’t the risk too much? Kickboxing is very dangerous. I read that his mother could scarcely watch the hits and he could have been a gunslinger with broken legs.

“And I could have got run over on my way here today. You can’t live a life thinking it could go bad. You go into things thinking what’s going to be great about this?

I’m directing a film at the moment. That’s what I’m really doing so I’m sort of low energy today. My brain is a little fried.” You can expect first time directors to be a little haunted but Elba doesn’t come over as quite that, just simply tired from learning how to work the new demands of the film director.

But there again Elba has a kind of super brain.  He once read that we only use about 12% of our brains so he began working on how to access the rest of his brain and become superhuman in the process.

“Well yes. I’m not sure whether doctors think it’s possible to expand your brain capacity, but there are certain exercises – rubbing your belly and tapping your head at the same time that extends capacity.”

I had a friend recently who did brain training. It’s all the rage in LA. My friend showed me some exercises that were crossing one arm and using the other to tap his ear.  Elba nods enthusiastically. “If you push that even further and do more, do everything that you can, all the different things that you can do, I feel you can push capacity. So putting the same amount of detail into DJ’ing as you do acting means that you can push the capacity of the brain a little bit more. I’ve got a theory that the answer is yes. People think I’m good at this and that’s all I can do and I’m saying if you did something else you’d be good at that as well.  Listen I’m going to be 45 this year. Life expectancy is about 80. I’m over half way there so I just wanna live – live more. I just wanna do everything.”

So that’s one reason he’s directing. “Yeah… It’s a human story about a kid from Jamaica who comes here. I play a small part in it as well. It’s being shot here and in Jamaica. I’ve written parts of it. Well I’m not really a writer.  I’ve rewritten parts of it. The writers have written it but there are things that I’ve jigged about. I’ve also got The Mountain Between us (with Kate Winslet) and Molly’s Game (with Jessica Chastain) and Thor (with Benedict Cumberbatch and Cate Blanchett)  coming out this year. It sounds a lot but they were shot over the last 2 years and with the exception of Thor they’re all leading roles.”

So how was being stuck on a mountain with Kate Winslet? He laughs very naughtily. I’m not sure why. “You’ll have to wait and see,” he says.

The kickboxing overlapped the movies. They weren’t all planned to come out at the same time. It just happened that this is the summer of Elba.

“The end of my fighting was the end of last year but I’ve been doing a lot of DJ’ing. It’s a reset button. I love it. I’m falling in love with it more and more and I’ve been making music as well.” Yes, there’s one track called Sex in your Dreams where the lyric talks about ‘a dick thick like homemade butter’. I ask him to explain.

“Homemade butter,” he says deadpan, very serious. “You won’t get me going on that one. “Homemade butter is what is says it is on the can.” But butter is soft. He says, “Homemade butter?”   I’m slightly confused. I tell him I don’t’ get it.  I don’t get it at all. If he made it would it be runny or thick?  “Thick because that’s the way you like your butter.”  He pauses then laughs.  I’ve really no idea what we’ve been talking about but it feels like it was very filthy. He tell me that when he went on James Corden’s show Corden asked him about his homemade butter lyrics so when I met Corden I asked if he could shed any light. He didn’t know either. Maybe that’s an only child thing. The need to have thick butter? “That’s right that’s right. You need that butter.”

I wonder if being an only child influenced him as a father. He has two children – a daughter Isan now 14 (born 2002) and a son Winston aged 3 with different mothers. “I don’t want to talk about my kids today. I can’t talk about being a father without talking about my kids. I love being a father. It’s my favourite thing.” But then we would talk about how busy he is and how he’s away a lot of the time and how he probably doesn’t see much of them and he wouldn’t want to talk about that that. “But I DO see my children. I see a lot of them.  I live a busy life. But I love being a dad. It’s very fulfilling.”

There’s a pause of non-flowing conversation and to make it even more awkward I ask him to clarify details of his wives and girlfriends. He was married to make-up artist Hanne Norgaar in 1999 and they split up shortly after she gave birth to Isan after 3 years. He was going through a very transitional phase and then he had a very brief marriage of only 6 weeks to real estate attorney Sonya Nicole Hamlin and his current girlfriend Naiyana Garth is described as being on/off. Is that correct?

“On an off with who? I’ve been married yes, married again, yes and I’ve had a girlfriend for a long time. That’s right.” Long pause. “But I’m also human. That’s normal I think.”

I’m not sure exactly what’s normal, all the details about his being human but one certainly sees or hears of him linked to various beauties like Jourdan Dunn (actress and model) and he’s also got about 35 years left and lots of women want him. He said recently that suddenly his demographic of women who fancied him had increased. That it used to be one demographic, now it’s older women, younger women. Basically all women.

He laughs, not bashfully though. “A lot of people find actors attractive. They find a certain man attractive and he’s an actor. He’s very attractive. It’s amplified because of what we do for a living. The point I was making is it’s not just the girls in my neighbourhood but everyone. Well not everyone but a lot of women.”

We’re staring at each other. It’s one of those very connected and not connected at all moments and the PR pops her head round the door. “Last couple of minutes.” OK, the moment, if there was one, was gone, so I change the subject completely.  Apparently President Obama is a fan. “Oh yes Mr Obama. What a lovely man. What a kind human being. What a good leader and he was a fan of The Wire, or he liked the character called Omar, not my character. But he had the grace to tell me I like you too and I’m just getting into Luther. His wife Michelle was well into Luther.”

I can imagine. Why do you think Michelle liked Luther? Because he’s complicated.  Because she likes complicated?

“OK, yes, yes, you’re right.” So where did you hang out with the Obamas? “We had dinner at an event he threw.” Did he share dessert with him?

“No I didn’t have dessert. I was on my regime where I had to lose a lot of weight.  I had to cut out certain food groups like sugar and gluten, very low carb and I had to eat fish and chicken.”

Was he forced to have it steamed? “No, baked and every now and again I had it…” long pause, eyes roll, “I had fried chicken.” I’m not sure why but the way he says fried chicken is as if he’s saying fried sex, he makes it sound really, really naughty. “I’ve lost a few pounds. Are you saying that you remember me really chubby?”

No, I’m saying. that he is now looking very fit. “I’m only teasing you. I do remember the whole plate of cookies that we demolished. I think if you remember, it was you who ate the cookies. And I was like I don’t share desserts, you have all of them……. I like your bag,” he says. My Bag has a cat on it and says Meow. He sits on his couch, still looking a little tired, purses his lips and says “Meow”.

The Dark Tower is out Aug 18

James Corden (Sunday Times Magazine – July 2017)

Outside Television City in Los Angeles – the CBS building – here’s a giant billboard of James Corden smilingly promoting the Late Late Show, which has been one of the most runaway successes a television host has ever had. He inherited the show when it was bottom of the rung for guests and viewers alike. Now The Late Late Show’s You Tube channel has over 2.6 billion viewers and after his first year the show was nominated for 4 Emmy Awards in 2016. Once inside he reminds me that he’d been working at CBS for nine months and the show had been on air for several weeks and he still had to show ID to get into the building.  Not any more. In 2015 he was knocking on publicists doors hopeful to get someone to sit on the sofa and he could only dream that proper stars could do Carpool karaoke with him. A year later he’s driving around the grounds of the White House with Michelle Obama and Missy Elliot singing Get Your Freak On.

I’m here to watch the show, which is fast paced, high energy and filled with joy.  The guests were Diane Lane, Benicio del Toro and Michael Fassbender.  And a new Carpool Karaoke with Harry Styles was premiered. I’ve sat in taped talk shows many times. They’re usually boring with sound bites edited and re-taped, mistakes etched out and filmed over. Not here. It’s a continued burst of infectious jaw aching laughter and pace with the odd self-deprecation where he’ll say things like he thinks he’s thin until he watches the show back. But more of that later.

Afterwards in the green room I tell him his show was great and he seems genuinely touched, modest to a fault. He’s bringing the show to London June 6-9th He’s more anxious than excited about it.  The UK loved him as a Fat Friend (he co-wrote wrote with Ruth Jones of Gavin and Stacey fame) and in Gavin and Stacey but then he became scrutinised. He could do no wrong and then he could do no right. He was called arrogant. His sketch show with Matthew Horne was panned yet on stage in One Man, Two Guvnors he enthralled. He took it to Broadway in 2012 and this in many ways set him up to become the talk show that he is – part musical theatre performer, part television actor, part existential joy. The guests all love him. He manages to be funny without being cruel. A rare gift.

The next morning I see him on the rooftop of the CBS building. He’s mid shoot and pretending to eat a chip from a newspaper wrapping. Quintessentially English but not necessarily quintessentially Corden. He tries to be good about the chips and he’s already done an hour in the gym. Once we’re ensconced in his office he abandons his desk in favour of a cosy sofa and comforting green juice. He shrugs, “I try.”

The office outside is filled with rails of suits and shoeboxes from Prada and Paul Smith. In one of the boxes is an award from Victoria’s Secret. TV’s sexiest host. He blushes pink and shuts the box tight.

With Corden there’s no interview tightrope walking. There’s no awkward moments. There’s no warm up. He’s very much as he is on TV. Always on always present, always to the max. Producers and assistants weave in and out to ask questions about the London shows. He asks them if he can tell me who the guests are or anything about it. They tell him no and he obeys.

Is he excited to return to the UK with a super successful show? “I feel more anxious than excited. Shows have gone across America but taking it to the UK brings a lot of technical problems.  What does the stage look like? How do we build the set? How do we afford it?”

Is he also anxious that the Brits may not embrace him in the same way as the Americans? You see him thinking as if it’s the first time it’s occurred to him but he’s used to people embracing him and then not embracing him.  “I guess, maybe but not really.  I think we have to be mindful that we are making a show or a predominantly American audience but it airs in 150 countries so were just going to make it as exciting as we can.”

So the guests that you’re not going to reveal. Do you choose people that you love or people that you already know? (he always seems to get on intimately with the occupants of his sofa). “I never know who they’re going to be till they’re here at the show. Most people are lovely and the environment of our show is warm and we just create organic conversations as much as you can.”

Of course nothing was organic as the start of his because American publicists did not want their clients to share a sofa with other guests. They were used to the traditional talk show format with guests coming on separately. “That’s where Graham Norton’s show was unbelievably useful.  We couldn’t book anyone for a long time.  The show traditionally had not been a slot with the widest of audience and after driving around to publicist’s offices they would often say my clients don’t sit with anyone else and I would say but they already did a year ago on Graham Norton. So we were starting below zero and that can be incredibly daunting. But what you have to do is take in all of the negative and make them plus points and people love an element of discovery. And as much as I was painfully aware of how unknown I was here, I had done my 10,000 hours.”

Malcolm Gladwell said you had to have done 10,000 hours of something to be good at it in his book The Story of Success and now in a total of 2 years, on You Tube alone, 2.6 billion You Tube views and ten million subscribers making it the fastest growing subscription channel in history. “It’s lovely,” he beams. There’s a padded heart on his shirt which seems a perfect metaphor. He’s wearing his heart on the outside and he’s not afraid to show the love. People feel at ease with him which is why Carpool Karaoke – the guests and James sing as they drive around in a car – works so well.

“There’s a humanising environment.” Oddly Mariah Carey was the first Carpool Karaoke of the Late Late Show although the idea had been premiered with George Michael back in 2011 and Gary Barlow for Comic Relief in 2017. Was he nervous? “Not really because I knew it was a good idea but in many ways I’m always nervous. I’m a fan of nerve. Nerves are good because if you’re nervous of something it matters. You want to do your best.   Like when we did One Man, Two Guvnors I remember so vividly the first preview of that show at the National Theatre. I wasn’t onstage for the first seven or eight minutes and I’d wait behind this door. The most nerve-wracking moments of my career have been behind that door and the day before this show started airing and I was behind the curtain and you know there’s a moment where you’re going out on the stage you have to enjoy nerves.

Does he fear being judged? “Of course, everybody does.” You’re only ever setting out to do something that’s your best. No-one sets out to do something bad.  You just want any criticism to be fair.” His eyes look a little distant. A little pained. Ever such a little.  Perhaps because there was a tine I the UK where criticism was heaped upon him. Was that one of expected? Was it one of those we’ll build you up to knock you down? Themes? He wasn’t allowed to stay on a Gavin and Stacey high forever. He nods. “It got out of proportion perhaps but the fundamental ting was the work I was doing wasn’t good enough. The sketch show (with Matthew Horne) wasn’t good enough. I hosted the Brits not well enough and then the film came out called the Lesbian Vampire Killers and it was awful. Really bad. But in many respects I’m thankful to it because it makes you realign yourself and think this is a serious thing and you’ve got to take your work seriously. The only time I got obsessed by it was the only time I felt there was an enjoyment I the bashing.”

I’d meant to warm up to this moment. I hadn’t meant for this difficult stuff to come so early in our conversation but he doesn’t mind. “Also something has changed in the retelling of this that somehow my career was over. I was responsible for the film, the Brits and the show that wasn’t good enough but it wasn’t like my career was over. At the very point that all these things were happening I was writing series 3 of Gavin and Stacey the most anticipated comedy of the year. So if that’s my low point I’ll take it.”

The shows finale which went out on New Year Day 2010 had an audience of 10 million and considering the show started off on the scarcely watched BBC3 this was an absolute milestone.  Does he feel he’s more appreciated in the US because Americans like a warmer tone and maybe the British humour is crueller? “No. Victoria Wood was warm, French and Saunders were quite warm. I don’t subscribe to that notion. “I don’t have any interest in making people feel uncomfortable. It’s not enjoyable to be constantly elevating yourself as a superior being which is what it is when you’re mocking someone or something. It can be funny once or twice but it’s a sure-fire way to get your show cancelled if you have one note and one tone. You have to keep changing it up and making it interesting for people.

I think the biggest difference is America doesn’t have a national press. It’s harder to get a momentum going…” The Corden bashing seems to him “a long, long time ago. It was before I met my wife about 8 years ago.”

This co-incides with a period where he seemed to be looking for love at all the wrong parties. He was on/off with Sheridan Smith then he met his wife Julia who worked for Save the Children and has been described as ‘a hot Mother Theresa’. He chuckles, “That wasn’t my line. That was Ben. Ben Winston my best man (and producer at CBS). It feels like another lifetime. Then I did a series called The Wrong Mans which I’m very proud of the I was in Into the woods and then I moved to America and launched this show. I’ve had my ratio of hits to misses. I hope I’m on the right side of hits. The misses had zero impact on my career. I never felt I came here and had to start again. I just carried on. Some people wrote things which weren’t very nice but you carry on. I think there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance and I would say I haven’t always trodden that line properly. I can understand why people might think I’m arrogant but I also don’t think it’s true.  I do have a sort of confidence if you like which can be perceived as something different. I don’t even know if that’s true. I think you can’t sum up the people of Britain buy what a few journalists have said. You can find something bad in anybody.”

And as Corden well knows, you can also find something good in anyone or any situation. “Part of the reason we want to take this show home is we felt a huge and overwhelming sense of positivity from the UK.  To appear on Carpool Karaoke you can’t take yourself seriously, yet Corden has had Adele, Michelle Obama, Stevie Wonder (driving) Madonna, One Direction, Katy Perry. Harry Styles, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Justin Bieber singing live with Corden, all of which have gone global. He has introduced a new audience to the show so they feel invested in its newfound success. Carpool Karaoke has had a zillion Facebook shares which means there’s a genuine anticipation for his return to the UK.  And I think he returns to feel the love.

Corden was born in August 1978 (38) in High Wycombe, the only boy with two sisters. His father was a musician in the Royal Air Force and is now a Christian bookseller. Corden seems remarkably well adjusted. His childhood was nothing like Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit but when he grew up both of his parents were in the Salvation Army. “Being in the Salvation Army was a huge part of our life until our parents realised that the particular Salvation Army we went to was full of the least Christian people you could ever meet. They were people who just wanted to wear a uniform.”

His mum and dad had the uniform but he left before it got to the stage of him wearing gone. “Maybe all churches are strange organisations because religion is one thing and people are another.” Is he still a Christian? “I don’t know…” There’s a pause while we shuffle cushions around on his couch. “I struggle with it sometimes. I am not one to question science. Science is great but at the same time if you’re growing up in a house but have the overwhelming feeling that all of this can’t be for nothing, it means you don’t know.  I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as heaven and hell but I hope there’s something else.”

Now a few years back when he was going through a bad time his mum and dad came round and his dad said, “We should all pray,” and they did. He found it comforting. “It was essentially my parents saying ‘you’re not on your own now. We’re here.’ And it’s incredibly moving when you spend any of those moments with your parents. I feel very fortunate that I’ve always had supportive parents… they pop up in the show and I’m sure they’ll be in London every night. My dad will be playing in the band.” (He plays saxophone, clarinet and flute).

They were in the audience at the Grammy’s and possibly will be again next year when he hosts the 70th Grammy’s in Madison Square Garden. This ear he’s not doing the Tony’s. “I felt I might have a little too much on my plate but the Tony’s is one of the best nights of my career.”

He was really at home on stage there. He knew everybody who was winning and losing. “It was an unbelievably supportive room.”

I’m not sure if it’s thinking of his recent trip to New York on the red eye and back again the next day but he yawns. I yawn. Why is yawning contagious? “It’s weird isn’t it? Also why can’t you tickle yourself?” we laugh.  It’s a very good thing laughing is contagious. “We bank on that on our shows. Last night he’d had a drink with Michael Fassbender and Benicio del Toro while Harry Styles was rehearsing. “It was lovely,” he smiles “And Harry. I’m very proud of him. I believed in all of those boys.”

At one point Styles moved in with the show’s producer Ben Winston who was like a godfather mentor figure. Did he ever have a mentor? “There have been people who have been unbelievably influential. Shane Meadows who cast me in a film called 24/7, a boxing movie with Bob Hoskins. He was 24 at the time. If you’re 17/18 working with a director who’s 24 you think oh, you don’t have to wait to do anything. You can just do it. He was an incredibly influential person in my life and the other one is theatre director Nick Hytner. I’ve worked with him twice in the History Boys and One Man Two Guvnors and these were both incredibly formative points in my life. I remember when I watched the first cut of the first ep of Gavin and Stacey. I was incredibly down and called him and he said are there three moments that you think are good enough and I said yes. I suppose so. And he said if you think there’s three there’s at least 10. It’s a bit like if you watch the movie of the book you wrote you’re visualising what was going on and what could never ever be but the more you live with what’s on screen the more you’ll fall in love with it.” He was completely right.”

Fortunately for Corden a lot of people fell in love with it.  Corden created Gavin and Stacey with Ruth Jones when he saw his peers, the other actors in The History Boys and his flatmate Dominic Cooper being offered roles in movies – leading roles and he would get offered the fat boy who delivers a TV to Hugh Grant. If there was no future for chubby boys as leading men he would have to create one so he and Jones created Smithy who was so loveable in Gavin and Stacey.  Does he miss acting? Being onstage? Acting on TV? His schedule is so intense it makes it almost impossible although he did do a few days shooting for a little part in Oceans 8.

He also plays Hi Five in Emoji Movie which opens this summer. It’s a big part and it’s super cute but it’s animated voiceover so it’s the kind of movie you can show up in your pyjamas and still do a great job. From doing so many TV shows he’s not only put in his ten thousand hours but his comedic timing is honed to perfection.

“I’ll be really disappointed in myself if I didn’t do another play.  I’m doing this show 4 days a week but not 4 days a week until I die.  We’ll see. We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.”

Corden was always a natural actor and prankster. When he was about 13 “I called in Richard and Judy on This Morning and told them I was being bullied at school. I was off school on a teacher training day but my Auntie Marilyn recognised my voice and called my mum and then I had to hang up. I’m not proud of it but I guess there were worse things I could have been doing at the age of 13. I said I was Chris from Buckinghamshire or something.”

In reality he was never bullied at school. He was never the fat boy who had to make jokes to be popular, and he even says there were plus points. 2my size and shape has helped me as many times as it hasn’t and that was the very thing that made me want to write.  That’s when I started talking to Ruth Jones about Gavin and Stacey.  There were eight of us boys as History Boys, all of similar ages and points in our careers and I’d be the character who’d drop a TV off or be the newsagent and everyone else was coming in with film scripts under their arms. And I had to think I’m only being offered these parts because some people would say if you look a certain way you’re not interesting to people and your stories are not as valid as other people’s. I always felt like I’d be offered a lead in something and then it became clear that that wasn’t going to happen and that’s when I thought OK. I ‘m going to have to muscle my way in here because no one was saying come and have a seat at the big table. That’s how the writing of Gavin and Stacey came about.”

His weight has been constantly fluctuating. He’s been stones bigger than he is now and lighter. He lost a lot of weight doing Amelia Freer diet that was successful for Boy George (look up) Her book was Eat Nourish Grow. “It’s always going to be a constant battle. I went to the gym this morning and look at the green juice. I’m trying.  There’s so secret to it. It’s eating less and doing more and trying to avoid bread. That’s my biggest weakness.”

And what about drinking? “I don’t really drink very much. I’ve never been a big drinker. I’ve never been let’s get a glass of wine. There’s a delicious cocktail at the Soho House called Eastern Standard and I like them but my biggest problem is avoiding toast. My children are always eating toast. Me and my wife in bed with marmite on toast at 10.30 watching Big Little Lies.” He beams, an extraordinary ear to ear blissful beam.

He has a six year old son Max and a 2 year old daughter Carey. “There’s not a diet I haven’t done. I’m trying to be good and going to the gym and there’s a dance class I like to go to every now and then.”

Is he not too famous for a dance class open to the public? “No, clearly not. Who is too famous to do a dance class?” Harry? “No he’s not.” Katy Perry? “No. once you’re in it you’re in it. You can’t start living your life like that.”

I tell him about when I did a Pilates class with Nicole Kidman and there were 300 paparazzi’s outside the watching us leave. He enthuses about the dance class. “It’s called Plyo-Jam and it’s dance using Plyometrics. Lots of jumping and moving and sweating for 45 minutes and old fashioned fucking star jumps.”

He finishes off his green juice. Very LA. “We’re here for another few years without question unless I get fired. We’ve just bought a house and we feel very settled as a family.”  Does hot Mother Theresa Julia work? “Yes. She’s got an amazing job looking after two and a half children – me being the half.” Where and how did you meet? “Through my old flatmate Dominic Cooper. They’ve known each other for years because they grew up in Blackheath. He introduced us.”

Was it love at first sight? “It was for me. I doubt it was for her but for me she’s incredible. People always talk about me and how much work the show must be but it’s nothing compared to what she does. Our daughter was only twelve weeks old when we moved here. I had to come out earlier because my daughter didn’t have a passport. It was a massive thing to just pick up our life and come here, you know.  And we’re happy because we’re together all of the time. It’s not like I’m doing a movie where I say I’ll be back in a few months or a play with eight shows a week where every night you’re on your own. Predominantly this show is me being here in this office coming up with ideas and then we go and shoot stuff and do the show. Home every night.”

So in a way it’s more stable for them as they see more of you. “Without a question. Yes. I’m off at weekends and that’s just glorious. I watch football on TV and play with my children.” Is he a good husband? “I hope so, yes. I certainly try to be.” Was he a good boyfriend? “I hope so otherwise I don’t think she would have said yes.” What about other relationships. His on/off with Sheridan Smith. Was that fun? “Yes,” he says hesitantly. “I really don’t want to talk about other relationships in my life because I wouldn’t want to read about my wife’s ex- boyfriend. I don’t know if Sheridan has got a partner but I don’t imagine he would want to read about fun times that we had so I always try to be respectful.  We certainly dated for a while.”

Does he stay in touch? “No, no. I don’t. No.” Is that because your wife wouldn’t like it? “No. it’s because we were together, then we weren’t.” And that’s it? “Yes.” Seems very definitive. Is he like that? “I don’t know if I’m like that or not but that’s the situation. My previous girlfriend before that, Shelley, I was with for seven years. We lived together and I think there’s a reason you stop being together so then to carry on in any other way is not my thing. It’s not anything that I’ve ever thought about doing. It doesn’t mean there’s any acrimony but it’s just not part of my life.”

It seems weirdly brutal if you think about it and especially odd for a man who’s so full of warmth but it has a logic to it. Things aren’t working, no children involved. You get on and concentrate on another relationship that IS working.  Is he the same person at home as he is at work? As full on? “I try to be but sometimes the days here are a spiral of constantly talking and I get home and the last thing I want to do is talk. However my wife would have spent the day talking less so I’ve realised is wherever you are and whatever you’re doing you just try to be present in that moment right there. Like I’m trying to be as present as I can in this interview as opposed to thinking after this I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that. It’s the same in your home life. I try to be a present father and a present husband. It’s something you have to learn to do really.”

Does he sleep much? “Are you kidding? Last night I slept like a baby. 10 o’clock until 6am because the last two nights I was on a plane to New York and only got three hours sleep on a plane. Not fun but sometimes you’ve got to do it. You just don’t have any choice.”  He yawns again. “I could genuinely fall asleep right now but I’m not going to. I consider my job being the thing I have to care about every single second until the moment the show begins. Then all I have to care about is enjoying myself. That’s all I can do.

Goldie Hawn (Sunday Times Magazine, April 17, 2017)

Chrissy Iley & Goldie Hawn
Chrissy Iley & Goldie Hawn

I meet Goldie Hawn in Santa Monica. It’s one of those Hockney-esque days – blue sky and palm trees. Everything you’d expect.  I expected Goldie to be blonde and cute and somehow frozen in time.  I expected a little facial landscaping, but there’s none of that It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since Goldie Hawn made a movie (The Banger Sisters), because somehow she’s one of those actors who has a continued presence. People are always being compared to her and she’s often photographed with her very famous (Almost Famous) daughter Kate Hudson.  You never know which on screen star is going to be frosty and who’s going to be lovely. Goldie does not disappoint in the warmth department. She radiates it along with calm and Zen.  

      She’s back on screen playing Amy Schumer’s mother in Snatched. It’s already been touted as the funniest film of the year – Hangover style comedy but women driven.  Schumer fought hard to get Hawn to play her mother.  They didn’t know each other before. Schumer just knew it would be right and when you think about it, although Hawn didn’t give birth to Schumer, without Hawn Schumer could not have existed.  Hawn was the Schumer of the seventies. She did it in a quieter, defter and more svelte way, but nonetheless she was a woman allowed to be funny, in control and take the lead in movies.  For instance, if you wanted to remake Private Benjamin, you’d get Schumer to play Hawn’s role.  Biologically no relation, but there’s something filmically genetic about these two. 
     Hawn is in a little black dress – slash neckline, bare, pale, freckled legs, strappy sandals, I glimpse a heart tattoo peeking out on her foot.  The hair is the same – Goldie hair. It’s long and it’s blonde and it’s tousled. The lips too are still as pouty. You notice her face is real, not plastic. You notice multi-coloured grey blue green, sparkling eyes. Orbital.  She’s just had room service delivered to her hotel suite. It’s your typical Los Angeles fare.  Green juice, almond butter with gluten free crackers – except she’s been drinking green juice for 20 years.  “I make it at home and sometimes I put mint in it, sometimes zucchini, always apple and ginger. It’s so cleansing.”   Somehow when she’s describing it, it sounds cosy.  She didn’t jump on the green juice bandwagon. She created it. She was always ahead of her time. 
     Born in 1945, 71 years ago to a Jewish mother and Presbyterian father, Hawn never dreamed big for herself. “I came to California to dance. It sounds silly because everybody wants to be a big deal and I just wanted to dance, to be married. I was very connected to my family and I was fully prepared to go home at some point.”  In fact she was rather surprised when she found herself being applauded in Hollywood.  She says she didn’t have drive, so it was confusing and it actually made her feel anxious and misplaced. Other people saw in her something she didn’t see in herself. A very rare commodity of someone who is extremely funny and extremely pretty. By that I mean she looked too pretty to be funny but she was. 
    Discovered on popular sketch show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In – she came to Los Angeles at the age of 22 to make her first movie There’s A Girl in My Soup.  She found her success baffling.  That’s why she was not distressed in the least by her absence from the screen for the past 15 years. She’s been busy doing other things that interested her more.  The Goldie Hawn Foundation is a foundation for children to help them triumph over trauma using her meditation techniques.  “A frightened child can never learn,” she has said. Her mindful techniques have been used in schools all over the US and Australia. 
     She’s also been a devoted grandmother to Kate Hudson’s boys Ryder, 13 and Bingham, 5, Kate’s brother Oliver and his children Wilder, 9, Bodhi, 7 and Rio, 3. And now without even trying she’s back, blockbuster back. “I’m excited. It’s very funny and it’s also very heartfelt.” That’s what she does best.  Mixes the fun with the heart.  “It’s a fine line you know.” 
    Schumer and Hawn’s onscreen chemistry is remarkable. Did she end up wanting to adopt Amy at the end of the movie? “Oh, I have adopted her in my heart anyway. I love her.”  And they didn’t know each other before? “No, I didn’t know Amy although we met on an airplane once.” (Hawn didn’t really recognise her). She seems to meet quite a few people on planes.  She met her ex-husband Bill Hudson on one and it went from a glint in the eye to full passion, marriage, envy, divorce. But more of that later. 
     “When I met Amy on the plane I didn’t recognise her. I’m not much of a TV watcher but then we met at an event in London – the Glamour Awards. I was there because my daughter Kate was getting an award and Amy was also getting an award. She came up to me and said “There’s this movie I read and I’m helping rewrite it but I can only see you in it and I really want you to do this movie.” Hawn indicates that she seemed quite surprised and then thought about it.  “I had been working with my Foundation for around 13 years so I thought let me turn this baby into a teenager and I can go back to work and have some fun.”
     So there was never a conscious decision that she was giving up movies and concentrating on the Foundation? “That’s right. There wasn’t. And was there a decision to give up the Foundation and return to acting? “No. The movie was 3 months. It was the right time. I was ready to go back and do something funny. When you’ve been working for 40 years at being funny there comes a moment where you look at your life and say who am I now and where do I want to go?  Do I want to continue to repeat myself or do I want to do something different? I want my life to be enriched by different actions, not just by one thing. That’s why I have developed and produced scripts for children that can go into schools.  It was exciting to me. And now it’s exciting to be back.”
     Did she ever feel like she’d been boxed into being the funny girl? A pressure to amuse? “Oh no. I never felt that it was a pressure to be funny. I don’t look at myself as someone who has to entertain people, who HAS to be funny.  I’m an actress who can be comedic. I’ve never done stand up or anything like that. I started off as a dancer.  First of all ballet and then jazz and I was that girl who got pulled out of the chorus line.  The next thing I knew I had an agent and I ended up on a big television show (Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In). It really was just a shocker. My career took me.  I didn’t take my career.  And what happens when you get older happens to everybody – the roles start changing. I worked into my 50s and I thought – wait a minute. There is a finite amount of life left. What am I gonna learn? How am I going to help? What do I care about? And that’s when ideas began to percolate of how to create a different life. Not for me but for children. That has always been my plan.  It’s been the most exciting part of my life and the hardest. I wanted to help children who are afraid. I wanted to stabilise my emotions and therefore I wanted to help stabilise children’s. I know about being scared, whether it’s bullying or something outside for that. When I was little I feared the bomb.”
     She grew up in the Cold War period and her school showed one of those Cold War propaganda movies when she was 11.  After that she was then terrified to go to school and woke up every day thinking it was the end of the world. “It stayed with me. It was very impactful. I wasn’t ready for that, all the devastation and people bloody and children crying.  How is a child going to react to that? I was 11 and I remember thinking I’ll never live to kiss a boy, I’ll never live to be a mum. I was very anxiety ridden.”
     It was a similar anxiety that made her feel misplaced stayed when she had her plucked out of the chorus line moment. She felt her life wasn’t her own. Somehow there was a link between not having control of her life and a fear of death. “Yeah it was fear of death and violence. What could be more scary than a bomb falling from the sky and falling on you?”
     Her early success was a metaphorical bomb. She had felt anxious most of her early life and that’s when she discovered meditation therapy.  The success meant she didn’t know who she was anymore. “I felt unstable. My life wasn’t working out as I planned. I wanted to have a dance school for children, to be married and have a house in Washington DC. Being married was my dream. It didn’t happen that way. I did one show and boom. I’m away from everybody I love and I’m in LA and my mom and dad were in Washington. I thought I would go back to them but life kept keeping me away. 
     And then I realised, Goldie, you are literally never going home again. My dad would write me letters and say “The umbilical cord has stretched 3,000 miles.  Just know we love you. We are always here. Just try to enjoy this.” That was it for a while then everyone moved out West – my mom, my dad, my sister.  
     My dad was Presbyterian.  He didn’t go to church. My mother was Jewish. We rarely went to the synagogue but oddly enough I was the one most interested in religion. It was very clear that the Jewish part was strong because it had all the rituals of our family.  It was a cultural thing.  At the same time my best girlfriend was a Catholic. I went to the Catholic Church with her more than I went to the Synagogue, but sometimes I would go to both.  Friday night Synagogue and Sunday church. I find religion so interesting.  Now I’m interested in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jain. I also like the Kabbalah but more than that I’ve always been very connected to the idea of meditation.” It seems that meditation gave her answers, or at least some answers.
      It’s as if she was always trying a place to fit and at the same time she was rather a contradiction.  Everyone thought of her as the hilarious blonde.  Meanwhile she was thinking about death and eternal life.  Was she aware of that juxtaposition?  “Yeah. Unexpected right and then I took a course in neuro science because to me that was the answer to the brain’s function. How you shift your brain because of neuroplasticity.” Er, what? “Neuroplasticity is all about how you grow new connections in the brain. The brain is plastic. We can move the brain by our thoughts, our actions by often repetitive actions so you can train your brain to grow new cells.”
     I saw this on an Andrew Marr programme about how was retraining his brain to walk after a stroke. Hawn nods enthusiastically.  “You can train your brain to become conscious of certain things just like the mind and body are conscious of one another. There is communication between them. I love the idea that there is a communication between thought and remoulding the mind – the brain if you will and how that begins to help you be more in control of your brain rather than it controlling you.”
     She continues with another couple of sentences involving the word peptides but I’m way out of my depth. This is not what I was expecting to be discussing with Goldie Hawn.  I try to simplify, take us away from science.  Is she saying if you fear something, the fearful thoughts make it happen? “Exactly. You can look at a painting. You can see different things. I was I India many years ago and they have these beautiful caves dug in the salt rock. One cave was the Jain, one was the Buddha and one was the Hindu cave.  In the Buddha cave, they held a light to the Buddha’s face and he looked peaceful.  When the light turned in the other direction he looked angry.”
     Suddenly there’s the sound of Indian chanting and I realise it’s Hawn’s mobile ringtone. She laughs.  “Isn’t it perfect? Anyhow, that’s how I started looking into how the brain works.”  
     In which parts of her life did she find her meditation therapy and her knowledge of the brain’s workings to be most useful? The blue grey green eyes glitter. Dealing with being suddenly famous? “Yes.” Divorce. “Yes. It helped me through my mother’s death. It helps every day. We have a tendency to want a miracle to happen when we’re suffering but I think we need to suffer for a limited period of time. When someone dies who is close to you, you have to go through it. I don’t believe in jumping over the river to try and cleanse yourself through it.  That’s kind of a denial.”
     When her mother died – she says it was in 93 or 94 – she took time out of acting just to be with her. They were very, very close.  She saw the pain and suffering of her loss as a way of remaining connected to her mother. She nods.  “In some form yes and that’s what it was. I spent a lot of time on my spiritual journey when she died.  I’m not over it. I miss her every day, but it took a year of really not being over it.  The Jews believe it takes a year. That’s why they have a stone setting a year after the death. I swear to God she was there at her graveside. 
     The Rabbi did his prayer, our family were holding hands and a wind came out of nowhere, whoosh and it was as if my mother was saying it’s OK now. I cried. It was the end of mourning and the beginning of my holding my mother close to me all the time. It was just different.  I want to help people through things like this. You have to feel it, not deny it. Take it with you and work it out. Meditation has helped me through tiredness, stress, work issues, relationship issues. You know when we react to a situation that we wish we hadn’t reacted to – we were just firing off.  It helps you with that reacting because if you can take 10 seconds more to think about things it’s an amazing tool.” 
    It seems like by the time she got to her relationship with Kurt Russell she’d worked quite a few things out.  It continues to compel people – Goldie and Kurt – the longest lasting Hollywood couple – 34 years but never married.  In the past she said that maybe it wouldn’t have lasted so long if they had been married. “Definitely,” she nods. “Relationships are hard. None of them are easy. Both Kurt and I had gotten out of a relationship that was basically all about money and we both looked at each other and we were like ‘marriage – no way’.  What’s yours is yours, what’s mine is mine.  We’re going to do this thing separately and we’re going to be together. We’re going to enjoy each other. There’s no marriage here. Marriage binds you lawfully that in a way that suddenly you’ve got to give up your money.  Kurt was married for three and a half years and he had to give up all his money, his house and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I was married and my ex sued me for everything after 4 years. The laws are like that.”
     I had heard of a book that Bill Hudson wrote, a kind of kiss and tell without many kisses. I read an extract where he was whining about money.  Did she ever read it? “No no no. It’s too bad. I mean it’s over.  But these things make me feel more compassionate. Isn’t that interesting? The kids are great and it’s forgotten.  But that was a funny story how you met him on a plane and ended up marrying him.  “My God he was great.  He was a lot of fun. He was very, very funny.  There were really good qualities about him but then he was gambling and all sorts of things and it didn’t work.”
     It was very different when she met Kurt. There was no crazy coup de foudre.  It was a slow burn of boiling sweetness.  They met when they co-starred in the movie Swing Shift.  “Yeah,” she says tinged with a dreamy nostalgia.  “You know when we fell in love? It was when I realised loved the way he looked at my children. Frankly that was it. That’s what made me fall in love with him.  It wasn’t one of those…” she’s searching for the word “lust at first sight things. No. not that at all. I mean we were very sexually attracted to each other but I was at a stage of my life where I had finally excepted my little white picket fence dream did not work out. I’d had two divorces and I wanted something that was going to be good for my life and my children.”
    We’re inside but it had been so sunny I was wearing my sunglasses. “Who made them?” she wants to know. “Kate was only 3 and Oliver was 6.  Kurt is very special. We raised the children together and we’ve been together 34 years and had a great time doing it. We lived 3 years in Vancouver (because Kurt and Goldie’s son Wyatt was playing ice hockey there) and we’ve spent two and a half years building a house in LA and I had my third night’s sleep there last night. All kinds of stuff needs doing.” They moved back to Los Angeles for Wyatt’s career.  “Wyatt’s an actor now. All my children are amazing and very, very talented. Oliver’s had some successful TV shows and he’s got 3 children. I’ve got so much to be grateful for and everybody’s excited that I’m doing a movie.”
     Will this be the start of more acting work for her? “It’s hard to know.  It depends what comes up. Careers have resurgences but you don’t recreate your career.  Not at my time of life.”  She’s 71.  Of course she doesn’t look 71 and she doesn’t look a Hollywood 71 either.  Jonathan Levine, the director of Snatched announced that Goldie Hawn was the fittest person on the set. 
     So how did she get to be the fittest person on the set? Does she have a ballet routine to keep her in shape? Does she still dance? “I don’t, but I did have a ballet barre put into my workout room this time so I will be doing more plies and working at the barre.” I tell her I did that for a couple of months and it was tell. “It’s very hard. Those slow plies, they’re hard. There was nothing like that in the movie. There was lots of running around and whatever but I’m used to that.  Nothing new.”
    It ends in a way that there could be Snatched 2.  “Yeah there could be. You never know.”  In 1996 she, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton did the movie First Wives Club.  At the time when most big earning movies were sci fi movies or movies that were tailored to the adolescent male audience. It was quite a brave time to make a movie with three women in their fifties.  “Yes it was.” They all did it for minimal money.  Small front end, small back end just to get it made. When it was a huge hit, the studio wanted a sequel and they expected them all to do it for the same low fees.  Were they insulted? “Yes. I couldn’t believe it. We’ll just give you the same amount of money and I thought to myself, no.  Everyone negotiates for a sequel because you’ve already built a constituency.  People love your characters, they know you.  That’s a value.  You can’t put anyone else in that movie.”
     Do you think they would have treated men like that? “Not at all.” We ponder about what’s changed in the last 20 years in Hollywood. Ostensibly can women be sexy and funny and earn as much as their male counterparts? My theory is that Amy Schumer has been quite a game changer. She’s the one who can get movies made. She can negotiate a good sequel, she’s made it possible for a new generation of women to be laughed at in a good way. 
     “Exactly. She has. We keep inching along, two steps forward, one step back. It’s not even that long ago when women weren’t allowed to vote but there’s still some of those diehards that look at women as objects and also find them in many ways a threat. So many men today have changed. Young men today are very different but some of the old dogs still have that lack of regard for a woman who has got, how can I put it? A woman who has got power. Because if you don’t use your power just right…” she whispers. “They go mad and I go did I say something in the wrong tone of voice?  In other words, did I have a look on my face that looked determined? Was that a look you didn’t want to look at?  It’s fascinating.”
     Do you think that women are still put in boxes like if you’re beautiful you’re supposed to be stupid? If you have a PhD you can’t have a manicure?  “I think that sort of thing still exists.”
    Hawn was never the type of woman who was called a ‘Biatch’ for taking control, for producing a movie, for speaking her mind.  She was cleverer than that.  She spoke her mind carefully, never angrily. She always appeared sweet. You never thought of her being the one with power. “But I can tell you that I never kept my mouth shut.” But she didn’t ever shout. “No I didn’t and that’s how it worked. I wasn’t fighting anything.  But I can tell you I did frustrate a lot of people.  I was not happy about the way First Wives Club was handled. The other girls were saying ‘You talk, you talk.’” 
     That’s interesting. Midler and Keating are both strong, intelligent women. “I’m more confronting. Bette hadn’t done a movie in a long time and Diane is smart as a whip but she’s just not confrontational.  I had the mouth so I could articulate what was wrong.  Also we were given a script that they guy who was supposed to write it hadn’t written. They had switched to somebody else and I had to say wait a minute. We have script approval. It’s not unusual for movies to have a bumpy start but getting back to whose voice is the loudest, it’s just the voice that says ‘I’m not going to do this.’ That’s when that person becomes powerful.”
     Doesn’t that person get mocked and made to feel like a Prima Donna? “Yes and then that person says fine, I’m not angry but when you breach the contract you breach the contract. And they end up having to listen.” But then they’re not in a hurry to employ that person again.  “That’s a different story. You could be absolutely blacklisted. I could have been, but I can look at that movie and feel extremely proud that I used my voice.”
     And that women are now allowed to be funny. Warily she says, “I think more women are funny, yes…” In the past women weren’t allowed to get the biggest laughs. “That’s right.” Especially not pretty women.  “Right.” Because men don’t want to laugh at you if they want to fuck you.” Exactly.  A funny woman is not sexy to most men.” But not anymore. That is changing.” But you have been allowed to be funny and beautiful.” Oh thanks honey. The beautiful part is appreciated but I never thought that about myself.  And Amy too. Neither of us felt we had that pretty thing. We both grew up doubting ourselves.”  This I find textbook shocking. Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin/Shampoo period is unmistakeably gorgeous and the first thing I noticed when I came into the room were those eyes.  So much deeper and more soulful in person.  “I don’t know about that but I do know there’s no such thing as a sexy clown. But I like the idea that there has been a paving of the way for more women to get out there and produce movies.”
     With Hawn the power is all on the inside, the unexpected.  She’s always liked to eat healthily, green tea, green juice, almond butter, vitamin Q10, baby aspirin and some weeks she works out every day, but it’s not as superficial as you might think. It’s not about being thin or beautiful anymore. It’s about being in control of her own body and her own mind. “But some days I’ll have wine.  I’m allowed. I write my journal when I feel I’m meant to.  It’s a wonderful way of resolving something.  You write it and you expel it.”  
     And then the phone rings with its Buddhist chimes. She doesn’t pick it up but the chime itself seems a fitting enough end to our meeting. It’s like the end of a massage when the chimes say you’re calm now, the tension has expelled and that’s what my meeting with Goldie was like – a massage.

Michelle Williams (Sunday Times Magazine, February 19, 2017)

Michelle Williams
Michelle Williams, Sunday Times Magazine, February 2017

Michelle Williams arrives at the restaurant.  Her ultra-blonde boyish cropped hair strangely seems to make her look uber-feminine.  She’s straight off a seven hour flight from New York to Los Angeles – and I mean straight.  No make-up whatsoever, her skin has a luminosity that captures the whole room. Even the hip LA crowd can’t help but gawp.  There was a time when she minded this.  She minded it quite a lot.  There was a time where she was hounded and hunted by paparazzi with giant lenses wanting to get a glimpse of her pain when her ex but much loved boyfriend and father of their daughter Matilda, Heath Ledger died of an accidental overdose in January 2008.  She’s wearing a denim jacket and a loose boho dress.  Waif like, sure but even in her somewhat ordinary outfit and big bulging flight back there’s something about her.  We hug hello. I’ve met her only once before but I feel that I want to.  I love a Michelle Williams performance. Something about it stays with you long after the movie.  She has flown to LA for the weekend of the SAG awards where she is nominated best supporting actress in Manchester by the Sea.
Her performance in Manchester is extraordinary.  Not much screen time – it’s been estimated at only ten minutes –  she manages to pack in a lifetime of emotions, grief, despair, loss, survival all into her character Randi: a woman whose husband was drunk (Casey Affleck) and accidentally set the house on fire, causing the death of their three children.  What she brings to this part is her real life experience of loss that she was ready to confront and cauterise into her art for the very first time.  Affleck said she told him that this was the part she wanted to leave as a record of herself for her daughter.  She snuggles into the booth “I spent a lot of time preparing for it and I tried to squeeze a lot into those scenes.”
Sometimes her big bambi eyes look right at you, unafraid.  Sometimes she closes her eyes while she’s thinking without any self-consciousness.
“I figured in my imagination over the years how much I wanted to work for (director) Kenny Lonergan (Margaret, Analyze This).  While I was preparing for this I wasn’t doing anything else so I had time to spare.  I spent hours and hours. It was my obsession, my daydream.  You know you spend so much time waiting in lines, getting something fixed or cooking a simple recipe and SHE was what I thought about ALL of the time.  I never treated it like a small part.”
And in this sense it wasn’t.  Her characters’ presence was the essence of what Manchester was about – loss and how to survive it.  She invaded every screen moment by not actually being there.   “I like to spend as much time as possible before a project just easing myself in.”  Because she wants to get it perfect or because she feels that she need to work so hard? She is after all one of those all thinking, all analysing Virgos.  “I think research is helpful and it bears fruit, even in the most circuitous parts you take. I think it’s a way to work through anxiety.  It’s also the only way I know how to construct a character.”  Does she think it was kind of therapy to live out someone’s grief onscreen rather than her own private grief? “I never look at it like that.  I look like how can I be of service to this character.  Kenny wrote a character who was very different to me so it was interesting to find out more about her, not about myself.”  But in so doing does that make her feel more or less of who she is? “It has nothing to do with me.  I don’t think I understand myself through exploration of these characters. I use my life to understand myself better.  My work is to understand other people.”
Of course it is.  Williams is not a narcissist in any way. She’s all about other people.  For instance, she’s worried how I felt waiting in a restaurant for her on my own, not about her eight hour plane ride and how she fell asleep with her neck in a funny position and now it hurts.  She mentions it only when I notice she is cocking her head to one side unconsciously.  Partly I’ll admit it.  I have a girl crush on Michelle Williams and party because she’s the kind of girl who’s smart and funny and I think anyone would want as a girlfriend.   Talking to her is easy.  When we talk about risks she’s fascinated by the risks I have taken in life that she hasn’t.  “I never want to go above the speed limit, that’s true, but obviously I’ve taken some risks in my life.  I try to keep things simple, be at home a lot and only take the risks when I work.  I knew there was a lot riding on my scenes in Manchester.  Those scenes feel very loaded.” Was that what drew her to the movie? “I hadn’t worked in a very long time on a movie. And what drew me into it was the writing. It was Kenny.  He was on my bucket list. Before I die it would be my dream to work with him.   I like the feeling in life when you see circles close.”
She’s not very hungry but she doesn’t want me to eat alone.  We order salad even though I see a box of supermarket salad in her bag, which she’d intended to eat on the plane but didn’t.  It was a huge risk for her to play Sally Bowles in Cabaret in 2014 and then return to Broadway for Blackbird in 2015, singing on stage, certainly one of those work risks that paid off.  It was also designed to keep her close to home and Matilda.  It’s been an interesting and continuous transformation for her.
We next see her on screen in Kelly Rheichardt’s Certain Women.  She worked with Rheichardt before (Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff) and has always been attracted to her poetic film making skills.  Williams is a big poetry fan.  When she wakes up she doesn’t go on Instagram or Twitter, she reads a poem.  She likes the idea of a lot happening in a short space of time.  And she likes to constantly challenge her intellect.  Perhaps that’s something to do with leaving school at fifteen to come to LA to act before eventually ending up in the long running television series Dawson’s Creek. Her best friend form that show, Busy Williams, calls her now. She talks to her excitedly and says it’s the best part of coming to LA for awards.  She gets to hang out with her friend.
Williams turns down wine.  I ask her is that because she wants to look non bloated in her dress at the event? (And what a dress it turns out to be.  Who knew sequins could look so cool).  “Usually I’m a partaker of alcohol but I feel like I have more energy and it’s easier to get up in the morning and be bright eyed and bushy tailed without it.  It’s also nice to have inhalation and exhalation.
There’s a few different ways to take care of yourself and sometimes it means indulging your desires and sometimes it means the opposite.  I’m usually an indulger because I find it’s so comforting when life is stressful.  Sometimes I think I’m going to take care of myself by letting myself have what I want, but recently I’ve been working with the idea that taking care of myself would be to give myself things that are healthy for myself,” she laughs, as if to imply she’s not been very good at it.
Certain Woman is based on the short stories of Maile Meloy.  It’s three interwoven, loosely connected tales and Williams plays a wife and mother who wants to build a new home and keep things really authentic with natural sandstone but she’s less authentic on the inside.  It’s the kind of ambiguous character that Williams thrives on.  Also Certain Women is set in Montana, but for Williams it wasn’t just about the awe inspiring, bleak landscape and the vintage trucks.  It was her childhood.  She lived there until she was eight. “I have very, very, very happy memories.  The happiest.  I really loved being a kid there – lots of space and freedom.”  Thereafter the family moved to San Diego.  Michelle’s home maker mother, brother, sisters and father who had his own commodity trading business ran for Senate as a Republican twice and lost.  “It was less happy probably by virtue of it being my preteen hears which are perhaps unpleasant wherever you go.”
At fifteen she got a legal emancipation from her parents.  The primary reason was so she could work unrestricted hours as an actress in Los Angeles but there is sense of fracture.  Her need to be alone yet she admits to being terribly lonely and that she had no idea how to look after herself, even by her Dawson’s Creek days.  “I’d eat McDonald’s as a matter of course – cheeseburger, fries and I’d order two pizzas.  One for dinner and one for breakfast with orange juice.  I didn’t go to the dentist for ten years.  I was a kid.  I didn’t know going to the dentist was a real thing.  I thought it was a scam.  I had so many other things to take care of I wasn’t thinking about my teeth and then they started to hurt.”
We share experiences of dental trauma.  “I am so dentist phobic I cry as soon as I sit on the chair.  I found a dentist who gives you gas so you’re completely and totally out of it and you have no idea what’s going on. You get sleepy, warm and cosy.  You should do it.”  She’s worried that I have PTSD from a barbaric visit to the dentist when I was six.  At this point we discover how delicious the flat bread is. “Surely it must have been fried.”  We pluck bits off it so that it looks like a man with a beard and then we pluck off another bit and it looks like a bird with a beak.
“I’d forgotten how truly beautiful Montana is.  It’s truly majestic and felt like home.  Of course I admire Kelly so much as a film maker.  I always want to surprise her and come up with things that she might not have expected.  But ultimately Kelly has a very clear picture in her head and I’m just trying to understand what it is so that I can give it to her.”  Her character in Certain Women is not very likeable.  “I don’t care at all if people like me as a character because that’s real love.  Real love is when you accept the totality of someone – when you see their darkness and their lightness.  Real love is saying I see you for you and I still love you.  I guess that’s what I’m still looking for.”  In this instance the words are so resonant I’m not sure if she’s talking about a character or herself.  Her intelligence is fierce and I think she enjoys a little ambiguity.  “When you don’t pin something down directly it opens up to so many interpretations.”
Williams strikes me as a woman who can love fiercely and deeply. She has been romantically linked to Spike Jonze, Jason Segal and Jonathan Safran Foer.   And while she’s happy to talk about what love means, the concept of love, she doesn’t want to talk about these individuals.  You can see it’s a conflict for her.  She rarely gives interviews and she wants to give her all in every moment in everything she does but she has learnt there has to be boundaries.  After Heath Ledger’s death she almost gave up acting all together, then she realised it was just the attention she didn’t like.  It was a double loss for her.  She lost him when the relationship ended and then he died and she lost him all over again.  They met on the set of Brokeback Mountain which she has described as “a very charmed time in my life.” They both got Oscar nominations.  They fell in love, she fell pregnant.   The paparazzi were fascinated by this couple because of its normalcy.  They went out to breakfast with their Stroller to local diners in Brooklyn, their kid cuddling giant stuffed animals in her McLaren buggy.  It seemed real, grounded and like it would go on forever.
In a statement shortly after his death she said, “My heart is broken.  I am the mother of the most tender hearted, high spirited little girl who is the spitting image of her father, all that I can cling to is the presence inside her that reveals itself every day.  She will be brought up with the best memories of him.”
She’s checking her phone to see how her daughter is.  “She’s with friends.  Everything is OK. OK. She’s eleven so we’re not quite pre-teens yet.  She’s just a kid right now.”  So what is she like? Do you think she’ll want to act?  She has the genes. There’s a pause and Williams is thinking.  She’s very careful what she says about her daughter because there was a time when “men and women in suits were cashing cheques off my daughters face.”  There were also other horrible moment where a little girl at Starbucks approached Matilda and asked her what it was like to be famous because she had a daddy who died like Michael Jackson.
“She’s not looking to declare herself.  She’s really still a little girl.” Williams was ready to declare herself as a kid but maybe Williams was never a kid.  She’s told me before that she thinks we have many ages within us all the time.  She strikes me as someone who is both young for her age and old.
She knew growing up that she wanted to be away from San Diego.  Acting wasn’t always her passion.  She wanted to box.  “I wanted to be a boxer.  I think that was kind of sad because at the time I didn’t distinguish between sexes and weight categories. I was going to go out there and fight the champ Mike Tyson.  I was a big fan of his growing up and I wanted to be against someone really tough.”
“Matilda has all kinds of hobbies and passions. I don’t want to make a strong statement on her behalf in one direction or another.”
Her daughter is the reason that most of her projects have remained on the East coast.  She lives in Brooklyn and has another place in upstate New York. “We have stayed home.   I haven’t made a movie that has taken us on the road for five years.  I’ve been doing plays and small parts in movies.  For Manchester I would just go to Boston for little day trips and for Certain Women it was shot over the Spring break so she came with me.”
It’s extraordinary to think that Williams has garnered so much critical adulation and awards nominations over the last five years and has rarely been far away from home.  That requires extraordinary juggling skills.  She was Oscar nominated for Blue Valentine in 2011 in which she starred with Ryan Gosling – a relationship that went from happy passion to toxic chaos – and again for playing Marilyn in My Week with Marilyn. Certainly she must have identified with the much loved tragic heroine.  For Marilyn she would go to sleep watching her movies.  “Like when you’re a kid and you put a book under your pillow hoping you’d get it via osmosis.”
Williams is a pretty powerful sponge.  Even jetlagged and exhausted she seems able to absorb everything.  It’s not long before she is dissecting my love life and is giving me advice.  At the moment she’s working in Brooklyn again on a movie called The Greatest Showman in which she plays Charity, the wife of P.T. Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman.  It’s a musical.  She says, “Have you ever interviewed Hugh Jackman?  I love that man.” I tell her we sang during the interview – An Englishman in New York, except I can’t really sing.  “But I bet he made you feel good about it.”  Apparently Jackman made Williams feel good about her singing because her next role is playing Janis Joplin.  “Nothing like a challenge. It’s gonna get me going,” she says, pulling a scared face.”
Her desire to challenge herself with singing happened when she sang in Blackbird on stage.  “I fell in love with singing and now I just want to sing.  I find it terrifying too but once you do it it’s not like the dentist – it’s kind of fun. Don’t you ever sing to yourself in the shower and it kind of makes you feel good?” No, sadly not.  “OK what about dancing? There are just certain things that make me feel I’m a kid, that make me feel I’m a little bit free and a little bit unbound and I love it.  “I dance with Hugh Jackman.”
I tell her my parents were champion ballroom dancers.  Her eyes open wide. “Were they really in love?” Only when they were dancing.  “Dancers always look so in sync with one another.  There’s so much communication that happens when you dance.”  Then she looks sad for me.  “And you never felt the rhythm?” No, not at all.
I want to talk about her family, not mine.  “I have an older brother, two older sisters and a little sister who just had a baby.  My parents are divorced, each doing their own thing in different places.”  Were you more like one parent than another or an alien?  “Nobody in my family ever acted or wanted to act.  My mum sings though. She has a lovely voice and her dream when she was growing up was to play the cello on the Lawrence Welk show, so I like to think in some small way, me singing and dancing with Hugh Jackman is giving her something she missed out on.”  And her father, what does he do now?  There’s a sticky pause for the first time.  “I really don’t know,” she says and shakes her head and she shakes it a second longer to be emphatic in a quiet way.  You can see there’s something painful that went on before but the ‘I don’t know’ is as far as she takes me.
This is a woman who has turned her vulnerability inside out to survive it.  A woman who was on her own in Los Angeles when she was fifteen.  It’s a place of broken dreams and nasty egos.  She must have felt alone, lonely and then of course there’s her more public loss of the partner, months after they had split up.  And if that loss itself didn’t tear her down, being hounded by the paps almost did.  “If you’re never left alone to live your life, you don’t feel alive.”
Anyone else I might push a little harder to find out what went on with her dad, but Williams feels everything so sharply and it feels cruel. Instead she spies me looking at her big plane bag, stuffed to the brim.  “I bought this book of poetry with me.  I’m very excited. It’s one hundred poems. I truly love them.  When I don’t have time to pick up a novel or I’m doing other things I can dip into a poem. I always have time to read a poem – that’s what I tell myself and I get an email from Poem a Day that I subscribe to. Does she ever feel like writing poetry? “No. I’ve read enough to know that I’m not capable of writing one.  Where would I start?”
One gets the impression that Williams could tackle anything.  I like the metaphor of this waif like creature wanting to be a boxer.  She’s ready to fight for anything.  She’s ready to plunge into something that terrifies her, like a biopic of Janis Joplin.  “It’s going to be a lot of work but I’m thrilled.
“I do like to fight. Not with people but for things that I want.  I really enjoy the experience of wanting something and crossing the distance to get it.  I don’t want a lot of things but the things that I do want burn me up inside and I get very excited about trying to reach them.  I wanted to play Janis badly and I reached for it.”
“I don’t mean I want objects.  I want experiences and people.  It’s nice to want something and think about what you could do to pull that thing closer to you.”  She’s a dazzling presence, this waif like creature that seems such a fighter and very far away from that time where she felt it was hard to be alive because she was being watched all the time. “That was hard. You feel self-conscious.  You don’t want to jump outside the box.  You don’t want to embarrass yourself. You don’t want to make a bold move.  You just want to spend your life staring at your feet so people can’t catch your eyes.  Not a nice way to live.”  Especially not if you’re already sad.  “Yes.” She closes her eyes again as if to remember the pain so she can digest it, expel it.
How did she get out of that? “We moved outside of the city.”  There’s a little pain when she says the words and I recall an article in a glossy where she talks about when she had to move and she worried “How would he find us?” meaning Ledger.  It wasn’t an easy move but it was a move that was needed. And now they have another place in Brooklyn in a different area. “We don’t get hassled in the same way. It’s really quite manageable.” How did she succeed in getting it to be manageable? “I really try not to attach any feelings to a state of being, not success or failure.  So when somebody says I’ve succeeded I don’t hang onto it because I know that life is long and things are bumpy and when somebody says I’ve failed I don’t hang onto that either.  I try to let things bounce off me so I don’t become locked in one identity.  I’m too afraid to let things go and be comfortable. It’s a fact of life.  Everything goes up and down.”
Wise, heartfelt, vulnerable, strong.  And off she goes to bed with her book of poems.

Shirley MacLaine

There’s no entourage, no publicist, no hotel suite, just Shirley Maclaine sweeping in to Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica with a big floaty scarf and lots of turquoise and diamond jewellery. Her greeting is a stare with the big twinkly spidery eyes. She exudes an aura that is powerful, certain, and a look and sharpness that can be instantly withering.
We can’t find a place to sit where our conversation is not drowned by a trumpet playing band so we go to the restaurant where everybody is extremely old school charming to her. It seems she’s well known in there. Well enough so that when she asks for cappuccino and an extra cup of just foam it arrives fast and fluffy, no questions asked.
The last time I met her she’d been wearing a wig, a good wig, but nonetheless a wig. This time it’s her own hair styled in the pixie cut that fell so beautifully into place in her Bob Fosse 1950s dancing days. Her skin looks plumped up and smooth. She had a face lift when she was around 50. The rest of the face lines have settled in around it amicably. She’s now 76 (77 April 24).
“My skin’s always been good, but I’m old now and I’m gaining weight and I hate it.” In her latest book I’m Over All That gaining weight is one of the things she’s not over. Dressing up, paying attention to fashion, scheming for film roles, feeling anger at world leaders, caring what people think of her and high heels are all part of the stuff she is completely over. Along with being polite to boring people. God forbid she thinks you’re boring. She would have no time at all, and no problem simply “meditating” right there and then or perhaps she means falling asleep.
Today though she’s very awake, very alive and animated. The voice in her book is always sure of itself; occasionally cruel, always brutal in its honesty. In the book she talks about having loved her ride and appreciating relinquishing the reins. In person though there’s none of that aching nostalgia and feeling that it’s the time to grow old and invisible.
Her book is a mixture of Hollywood gossip, sex on set, tales of Elizabeth Taylor sparking in diamonds and crying into champagne, and other such manipulations. Plane rides on Frank Sinatra’s private plane where there’d be fights with jelly beans.
Her relationships with world leaders, Pierre Trudeau, and Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. The night she spent in a suite that had been rented for Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign and when she was sleeping a man entered and climbed into bed with her. She had no idea who he was so she rolled on the floor away from him. It happened repeatedly the same night so she didn’t know if it was one persistent man or several.
Alarming revelations are tucked in between her thoughts on religion, nature, UFOs, reincarnation, fame and ageing. She doesn’t pine for the good old days. She sets them out quite brittlely, fragmented, as if they happened to someone else. Understandably she talks a lot about getting older and fatter.
“I’m not talking vanity. It’s health wise. I don’t want to buy more clothes that are bigger. I’ve been putting together a live show because I miss the live audience. It’s a retrospective of my stuff, not just the acting but the dancing, footage from my shows and television specials. I’ve been cutting it all together and that’s what’s got me in this frame of mind. I am looking back. Look at those legs.”
When you look back at the young Maclaine she was super alluring, but not in an overt way. She had a dancer’s body and a distinctive haircut that made her look like she wasn’t trying and didn’t care. Think Sweet Charity, Can Can, The Apartment.
Did she think of herself then as sexy? “No, never, never, never. I’m a dancer. You have to be a team player and never think of yourself as a diva. And that’s held me in pretty good stead. I’m easy to work with except I’m very disciplined and I want efficiency.
“I should be doing my yoga but I can’t any more, I’ve a spine problem. Really I should pay attention to my posture.” She rises up theatrically in her chair. “I got the bad back from wearing heels and dancing in them. The things that seemed so important don’t matter now.”
I mentioned that I saw Annette Bening, her sister-in-law, at a party and she was carrying her Louboutins. “Yes, she and I talk about how hard it is to wear high heels all the time.” Does she see much of her brother, Warren Beatty. “Sure… he’s very complicated. We’re friendly. They’ve got four kids. We interact. I love Annette.”
Wasn’t there a time when she wasn’t close to her brother? “Oh yes. You know, families go in and out, up and down, I can’t remember when, just like all families.”
Annette is very thin, isn’t she. “Don’t you wish you could be like that, that thin?” I stop thinking about the fried calamari appetizer instantly. Maclaine doesn’t mean to be insulting. That’s just her way. She continues, “To do that you don’t eat much.”
She shows me her Louis heels. The highest she goes these days is a couple of inches.
In her back there’s a chapter: I’m Not Over Vanity, But I’m Trying. She talks about her body a lot. Perhaps because she grew up in the kind of Hollywood that created body fascism. Was it as harsh for actresses to be in shape then as now?
“Probably worse, because it was studio time. On the set of Trouble With Harry (1955), her first movie, Hitchcock wanted me to eat every meal with him. So I put on 10lbs in the first week.”
When she was an actress on Broadway she lived off her own lemonade made at cafes with quarters of lemon and sugar that were on the table, and peanut butter sandwiches. So obviously going from that to the multi-course Hitchcockian meal might add a couple of inches.
“The head of the studio called me in and said ‘What are you doing? We are trying to cut the scenes and you are a different person’. I had gone up to 136lbs. when you are under contract they did that because they owned you they thought, but I wasn’t owned. I didn’t stop eating for the rest of the picture. I said now I’ll have to keep eating so that I would match.”
Does she think Hitchcock had an eating disorder? “”Doh. Just look at him. He had trouble with food. He would lose 20lbs before a shoot. He knew the food would be catered by who he specifically asked to cater it and he would just eat his way through the film. It was very fine good food.”
She says with admiration, “Marlene Dietrich ate only every other day. She taught me how to put a very fine gold chain under your chin to keep it lifted.”
Maclaine talks about her own facelift and when she came home with stitches in her face she couldn’t have energetic sex. “That’s when I got into gentle sex, gentle orgasms.” She’s laughing a big dirty laugh. “Some deep emotions called don’t pop my stitches.”
Who was your lover at the time? “Oh he was very respectful, but no names babe. He’s gay now. Such a lot of people are bisexual.”
After talking about the gurgling gentle orgasm she says that she didn’t love sex so much unless she was emotionally involved. ” It wasn’t that interesting to me. I could never do it unless I was emotionally interested.”
What’s more interesting is how she stayed emotionally interested. Throughout most of her sex life she was married to a film producer turned businessman, Steve Parker, twelve years her senior. For most of that time he lived in Japan with their daughter Sachi. They divorced in 1987.
While married she had passionate, tumultuous affairs. None of which lasted for more than three years. Thus the marriage itself provided both the freedom and the barrier, the protection if you like. “It was an open marriage. A very open marriage.”
It went on for 28 years while she had what she calls “serial monogamous relationships” with many others including Robert Mitchum, Danny Kaye, Yves Montand, Australian Foreign Minister Andrew Peacock, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme.
“Being married was a protection not to marry again. If I had been single then it would have been discussed with the people I was with and I really don’t agree with marriage. It’s not something I would do.”
When you she married in the first place did she think differently? “No, I felt the same way. That’s why it was an open marriage. I was 19. He was my helpmate, my friend, my counselor. When I came to California from the east he was there, so I didn’t go into the world of Hollywood single.”
Somehow not being single in Hollywood was important to her. It’s as if she were in some way vulnerable or prey. Maybe on a very basic level she feared losing herself. Her parents Kathlyn Beatty, a drama teacher, and her father Ira, philosophy teacher turned juvenile detention officer and heavy drinker, had a claustrophobic and dysfunctional marriage.
In her book she tries to explain the contradiction. “What was I doing with all my hormones and attractions and longings when I always felt so strongly the need for freedom. Most of the men I was with wanted to get married. I was already married and I stayed that way precisely so it wouldn’t become an issue.
“My husband and I had a liberal arrangement regarding each others’ lovers. We were friends. We stayed married so we wouldn’t be tempted to marry again. I don’t understand the need for the institution and I could never live a life where I felt tied down to a promise just because my love hormones were raging at the time.”
Why did she divorce from Parker? I read it was about money. “I thought that it was, but it wasn’t. He didn’t want anything. But by the time we separated it was really just over.”
For a long time though if other lovers “got serious with me about divorcing Steven and marrying me, that was not good. All of them did that, and that probably took three years. That was their cycle. When you start looking back you see your behavior patterns and you realize you unconsciously conducted yourself to give them three years.”
Does she not think she should have given them any more than that? “Huh. To do what? I don’t think so. You can’t really control or not whether you have freedom from emotional intensity. It’s just a rhythm. I was kind of shocked myself. How do people do it for 25 years? I guess I did it one year for the body, one for the mind, and one for the spirit. It started with the body, then the mind, then the spirit, then it was done. Ha.” Loud dirty laugh.
What about the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme who was assassinated in February 1986? “We had broken up but we made arrangements to get back together, then he died.” You were about to break the three year rule? “No, it had been two and I thought we could add another year. He was a brilliant man, a brilliant leader. He didn’t believe in any of the stuff I believed in. we didn’t argue but he thought it was ridiculous. I liked his intelligence. Very left wing intellectuals always interest me. And they are always the most suspicious of my metaphysics. He was planning to come to New York and hoping to be Secretary General of the UN.” It must have been terrible when he was killed? “It really was. I talked to him a week before he died. We were planning on seeing each other. He was an extraordinary person. Not good looking. Not a big man, which I usually like.” We get very very sad talking about it.
Robert Mitchum was a big man. “Robert Mitchum was so complicated. My dad was complicated. And I like complicated men. But he was not exactly like my dad. He was very intelligent. He was intense, he was light, he was funny, he was impossible. Interesting to me. Good ground to plough. So much was under there.”
Did she ever get to the core of him? “Mmm, maybe. No, I would have got bored if I got to the core. Once you’ve got to the core what’s the point of ploughing anyway. I wasn’t looking for a lasting relationship, I never have.”
She speaks with sparkly-eyed fondness for Danny Kaye who came to visit her on set in Paris and flew her to New York and cooked her Chinese food. “He was a great pilot. He used to take me to dinner all over the place, not just across the Atlantic. If he wanted a steak he would fly me to Texas. He was a fabulous cook. That was three years. I can’t remember how that ended, but there was someone right after him. I think we’re all kind of cyclical. We have a rhythm and three years was mine.”
There’s an absence of sentiment and nostalgia in the way she speaks. It’s all very matter of fact. Perhaps that’s why her most intense love relationship now is with her dog, a rat terrier called Terry. Her eyes fill as she speaks of her love for her. She seems utterly contented. Certainly not lonely for any man. She chats on about her life in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she lives most of the time. Laughing with good friends and coming home to watch DVDs in bed with Terry.
She’s working on her one woman show – An Evening With Shirley Maclaine – and has a new movie out, Bernie, with Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey “I play a woman who’s a real bitch. She’s very wealthy and everybody hates her. I love playing those parts.
“Jack plays the head of an undertaking firm. We have a relationship and I become very possessive. I make life impossible for him so he shoots me and puts me in the freezer under the frozen peas.
“I’ve got other things coming up but I don’t know if I’m going to talk about them yet.” That’s great I say. A lot of people when they reach a certain age and they’re not leading ladies any more they find that difficult. You know how that goes? “No, I don’t know how that goes.”
Did she never find it difficult to reach a certain age and get offered different sort of parts and then get offered less parts? Did she never reach a point where she felt invisible? “No,” she says loudly and defiantly. I’m not sure if she’s going to snarl at me, but then she just laughs. Moods and shapes shift with her pretty quickly. One minute she’s laughing with you cozily, the next looking at you as if you’re something on the sole of her shoe. And then she’ll do that just kidding face and we’re laughing again.
Her book swoops like that too. From serious to angry, political and metaphysical, to Hollywood insider. And she manages to talk about people with love and disdain at the same time and in equal measure. Such as how Elizabeth Taylor got diamonds to go on a lunch date. You’re not sure if she’s talking in awe or contempt. Or both. Although she says she loves Elizabeth Taylor.
Did she herself get diamonds? “Sure, I got bribes to get married. No names. I said no, but I did not give the diamonds back. They’re in the bank. They may come in handy if I want to get more water rights.”
In the book there’s a chapter called I’m Not Over Making Money. “I think it’s going to cost money for what’s coming up. I want to make a huge garden. I want to collect rainwater. Solar is expensive. Who knows who else might need help. That sort of thing.”
She has always been unafraid to speak her mind. A lot of actresses are driven by insecurity. But not her. She says that she’s never manipulated to get a part.”
“I’ve given up more parts than I’ve been afraid of losing. If an actress called me and I was up for a part but they were so in need of that part it meant everything. To me it meant something, but not that much. I’m basically not competitive. I like the idea of playing a part that required a lot of thought, so there were parts that I wanted because they were interesting.”
What were the ones you gave away? “Oh, I should have played Alice Doesn’t Live Here Any More but Ellen wanted it so much. I should have played Breakfast At Tiffany, but I gave that up because of Audrey. I didn’t take these things seriously.”
Why didn’t you take Breakfast At Tiffany? Because you didn’t want to be a hooker? “Oh no. I went and did something called Two Loves with Laurence Harvey. Some terrible thing that three people saw. I liked the script. It was about a teacher in New Zealand working with Maoris.”
You got to go to New Zealand? “No, we filmed it in the studio. I thought that Breakfast At Tiffany was too souffleish. The Apartment started with 29 pages. I just liked the idea of working with Jack Lemmon and Billy Wilder. I didn’t know what it was going to be about, neither did he. He wrote it based on the chemistry Jack and I had on set. It didn’t seem amazing at the time. We didn’t know anything when we started. When the first review came out it said they don’t know if they’re making a comedy or a drama.
“After the first screening Marilyn Monroe was standing outside the screening room wearing a gorgeous fur coat and leaning up against the wall. I walked up to her and she walked up to me and she opened her coat and she had absolutely nothing on and told me, ‘You were wonderful.'”
Why does she think she did that? “Well, she didn’t get along with Billy Wilder.”
So she did it to punish him? “Probably. Isn’t that interesting.”
Such a punishment. The first screening of a brilliant movie ends and there’s no attention for Wilder or MacLaine or Lemmon, it becomes not about The Apartment but about Marilyn. “Yes, it really tore up the whole place. I don’t know what that was about. He was awful with her and she was with him. That was not a good relationship.”
What was it about their chemistry? “She couldn’t act. I got along with him. He was very autocratic. He was Austrian. You don’t tell Billy Wilder his script isn’t right. I feel he always needed a strong woman character in his pictures. When he started doing them without it just didn’t have the tension.
“He used to have this editor, Dylan Harrison, and he’d see the dailies and say ‘Billy, you’ve got to shoot the whole day over because you didn’t break my heart’. With men only he didn’t break hearts. Dylan died after our last picture. Dylan was the real Billy Wilder. Without him he was too harsh. He hurt people’s feelings. Sometimes I minded it. I tended to dig my foot in – let me do this, let me do such and such. But after a while with him it’s the law of diminishing returns.
That’s what happened with Marilyn. She couldn’t remember dialogue and he’d be very harsh and she’d forget more. Although I didn’t know Marilyn, that was the only time I saw her and I saw all of her.
“There was one other time when she was doing Something’s Got To Give. She had lost weight and got into shape, but she was doing her number which was not showing up on time and Fox called me to replace her and I said ‘No, I’m in the same union as she is’ and then she died.”
Well that would have been weird to replace her. “Well, it all happened before the picture got started. They did tests. Of her in a swimming pool and Dean was cast in it. I’m not sure if they ever did the picture with anyone else. Maybe it was not made.” (It wasn’t. Marilyn was sacked from the film. She was rehired, but then died).
Her voice and entire body language softens when she talks about Dean Martin. He was never neatly packaged into a three year cycle. Martin was the one man she couldn’t get. “I had a crush on Dean. He was the funniest. His imagination was funny. His brain, I’m not so sure.
“Frank wasn’t funny. Frank would get extremely autocratic. He could and would run the show in every which way, and he didn’t want to work hard.”
MacLaine became a non-sexual mascot for the Rat Pack. One of the boys. “I never had a thing with Frank or Dean or Sammy or Joey Bishop, but I couldn’t have an affair with someone if I was hanging out with them if I wanted to. I was the one they protected, like I was their mascot daughter.”
She says that they didn’t even drink very much. “It was all a show. It was like an adult kindergarten. I was one of the boys. We all played together. But I would always clean up the trashed room.”
It’s the only moment in my whole time with her where she seems uncertain of her role, of who she is. One of the boys? Or caretaker, love object?
She talks in her book of an unrequited longing for Martin and once she even went round to his house to tell him how she felt. But his wife and kids were there and she ended up playing with the kids and had a kiss on the cheek goodnight. And the unspoken sweetness continued. Probably it meant more to her that way.
Does she ever wonder what would have happened if she’d had the affair with Martin? “No,” she says sharply. Does she ever think that about anyone? “No.” She doesn’t fill the silence. There’s nothing unrequited or lonely in your life? “No. I’d had enough. Come on. I’m nearly 77, I’m not interested in that any more…” Then there’s another pause, and a softening. “I mean if something came along.”
She smiles a crooked smile. Hard to tell if she’s serious. “I’m very content. I’m very busy and creative. I have a wonderful life. I have a lovely home in New Mexico. I come to LA and I go to New York and I have wonderful times.
“I think with someone who is as independent as me I don’t think men are all that interested. Unless a man has got a control trip going on, but I’d see that right away. This subject is boring,” she announces.
I wonder if it’s all been about her strong desire never to be controlled. Before I can formulate another question I can see she’s moved on.
She doesn’t mean to be offensive. In fact she’s very charming when she wants to be. She just wants to speak exactly what’s on her mind.
It’s getting dark in the Shutters restaurant and her twinkly eyes squint to see what’s written on my notepad. She orders more foam for her cappuccino. The waiter goes off and brings back a cup of pure foam like a cloud.
How close is she to her daughter? “You know, she’s 53, she’s doing her own thing. She’s doing a little theatre. She’d like to do more. I’m close with my grandkids. They live back east so I have to wait till they’re here.”
For most of the time when her daughter was growing up she lived in Japan with her father. It was deemed a healthier environment than Hollywood and dragging her from film set to film set. But there were long gaps in communication. Does she try to make up for lost time? “Yes, we try to, but she has her own life. She wants to be on her own. She’s going through a divorce now and I don’t want to talk about it.”
As if by magic at that moment Antonio Banderas, looking super svelte, and Melanie Griffiths, looking super baby-faced, appear to meet with her. Although it felt like me and MacLaine could have talked for hours, I realise with the arrival of this Hollywood couple she is in her true element. This is her Hollywood life and I have merely been a guest. I hope that we’ll meet again in this life or another.



John Cleese

There’s no one that can do comedic rage like John Cleese. Outrage, anger, disgust, are all honed into an elemental force. You see it released in his body first. It can twist and stomp, and his eyebrows swoop and rise gymnastically.

He was brought up to beautifully contain this anger, and indeed any other emotions in the mild seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare and at various public schools. Emotional excess was forbidden. Touching was narcissistic and looked at with disgust. He would not easily express what he felt about anything or anyone except by converting his emotions into jokes.

Cleese is hyper sensitive, sharp. Can wear his skin inside out. He feels intensely. He’s always been on a quest to understand these feelings having propelled himself into hour upon hour upon hour of various forms of therapy. He even married a therapist, but he certainly didn’t find what he was looking for there. In fact his divorce from third wife Alyce Faye Eichelberger, who some people call Malice, is one of the most expensive divorces of all time relative to his wealth.

He is currently doing a two-hour one-man show called The Alimony Tour. His divorce from third wife Alyce Faye Eichelberger settled under California law will cost him $20 million, $13 million upfront and then $1 million a year. The show is touring Scandinavia before it comes to Britain next year. The Scandinavians find him hilarious. Restraint is in their culture.

If at 70 he had wanted to take things easier there is certainly now a financial imperative not to do so. He says that on stage. Off stage though you get the impression he’s rather enjoying it. It’s as if he’s been stripped back down to his real self once again. The show must surely be cathartic.

The first half is mostly about the divorce. It’s dark and hilarious. He talks about what else he might have done with $20 million other than keeping the botox industry alive, and there’s a pap shot of his ex-wife at a cash machine removing a giant wad of money. A small percentage of the audience thought it was unfair to his ex-wife to show her as this one-dimensional grabby creature. He says her divorce lawyer who he says is the spiritual godchild of Blackbeard the pirate and Heather Mills. That gets covert laughter from some people too.
Of course it’s cruel. That’s why it’s funny. It’s almost taboo. He talks about taboo humour illustrated best with a sketch from the Holy Grail called The Dark Knight. It’s where his limbs are amputated one by one and in the end a limbless creature that still thinks he can win the fight. When the film was tested 95 per cent of people said that was the funniest part, and 95 per cent of people said that was the part that should be censored. Cleese seems most comfortable when he’s treading that line.

The second half of the show charts a behind the scenes look at his major creative successes; Python, Fawlty Towers, and A Fish Called Wanda where he was nominated for a writing Oscar and should have won.
It all features the beautiful blackness of his humour that is a direct descendant of his relationship with his mother which was extremely complicated. They seemed to communicate best through black humour. She was extremely neurotic, had phobias about so many conflicting things – claustrophobia, agoraphobia, the dark, the light, escalators, lifts, and many more. She died aged 101 in 2001. He says she managed to go through two world wars, the Cold War, the creation of the State of Israel, the Berlin Wall coming down, and managed to notice none of it.

One day she called him to say she was depressed and wanted to end it all and he says, “OK, I’ll call the little man in Fulham and we’ll fix the funeral.” She laughed. Cruel humour was the only way to move her. That was their bond. Kindness didn’t work. And that seems to explain such a lot about the man that is before me. Even though much of the show is devoted to the divorce from Eichelberger, the woman that haunts me as I was watching it is his mother.

We have met at the bar of his hotel for drinks and wheat free tapas. The room has platinum blonde wood floors and crystal chandeliers. He looks impressively handsome. Clear skin and super-expressive eyes. He’s wearing a pale blue soft thick wool jumper, jeans and bare feet.

He gets right down effortlessly and quickly to talk about his relaitonships with women. He says they’ve all been about his mother. “I think all my wives and girlfriends have had aspects similar to my mother. I don’t think there’s any question about that. It’s probably inevitable.” Inevitable for one who’s read so much Freud, Jung and other therapists, but more of that later.
His current girlfriend is 39-year-old sculpted blonde jewellery designer Jennifer Wade. I watch them together over the weekend I spend in their company and their relationship is unexpectedly sweet. They are sweet with one another and on one another. You catch odd moments where they seem lost in their own world and then rejoin the group chatter. He seems very comfortable with her and I doubt that comfortable is what he has enjoyed in many relationships with women.

She seems to be very nurturing of him, very protective, often expressing concerns for his knee. He recently had a knee transplant operation and some of the moves on stage have set off pain. When he’s in one place he has a yoga instructor and an exercise regime. But when as he’s been on tour it’s been difficult. There has been no yoga instructor and the hotels have had swimming pools the size of a coffee cup. He stretches his leg out, wiggling the long toes. I’m on an armchair on one side of him, Wade on the other wearing skinny jeans and boots.

He met Wade last year, first of all in London and then by chance they were both in San Francisco where he had an apartment and she had a brother. Things moved very fast. He now wears a rose gold ring on his finger. He tells me, “She said how can I take you seriously? So I told her to design me a ring and I would wear it. I’ve never worn a ring before.”
She is also wearing a rose gold ring that he bought her. It’s a thick mesh band with tiny leaves hanging off it. Later on when she’s not there I ask him is he going to get married? “I have no idea,” he says. But then he laughs naughtily. “Jenny is just getting over the final stages of a difficult divorce that was painful for both people and I don’t think she is thinking beyond that now.” Cleese himself doesn’t seem at all reticent.

When I point out that his divorce was also difficult he says, “Well, not emotionally because it was not a relationship that I had been getting a great deal out of for quite a long time. And when I took the courage to say I don’t want to go on with this it was painful for Alyce, which was why it was difficult. But the fact was I wasn’t particularly happy and you reach a certain point in your life where you think am I going to go on not being happy just to keep someone else unruffled? Or am I going to take the risk and push forward? I don’t regret it I’m afraid at all. I don’t regret what happened.”
It’s been written that he was suicidal about the break-up, about the failure of this marriage. So was he really incredibly depressed at first? “I was not suicidal at all. It was a great relief. The trouble is journalists make stuff up and then it keeps being recycled. What is true is that I was very sad about the death of my friend David Hatch. It had nothing to do with the divorce.” Hatch was a life long friend. They met at Cambridge when they were in the Cambridge Footlights together. Sir David Hatch became managing director of BBC Radio and died in 2007.

Cleese is very keen to set the record straight that he was not suicidal about the divorce. He seems to have attracted all kinds of untrue stories that recycle around him. Most recently it was written that he was now pretending to like German culture. “I’ve always been attracted to German culture. I’ve spoken about it many times, and made the point when Basil Fawlty is goose stepping it’s not making fun of the Germans it’s making fun of Basil. In fact I had a dream five years ago in which I said to someone that my only regret in life was that German was not my first language. I realised afterwards that the five books I had been reading were all written in German including Freud, Jung and Schopenhauer.”
I tell him I’ve read another story that he’d spent several thousands on having cosmetic work done. “Oh,” he says helpfully. “That story ran because this poor little girl Barbie, who I had a very brief relationship with that lasted seven or eight days, did an interview with a newspaper. They rang her and pretended to be interested in her career. She started saying a whole lot of stuff…”

What’s interesting and so supremely gentlemanly is that he doesn’t say a bad word about the twentysomething who sold stories on him. He feels she was tricked. He’s not angry but affectionate towards her. And what’s even more accommodating is that he goes on to say “Everyone knows I’ve had several hair transplants. The first one was in 1978 and I have far worse teeth than Martin Amis, horrible teeth. I don’t have a tooth left in my head and I haven’t had one for 25 years. Everything is crowned or bridged. I had the whole thing reconstructed about three years ago.” He tells me how sorry he felt for the dentist who couldn’t fail to notice a tear rolling down his face with the pain.
Was the hair transplant painful? “No, the whole thing lasts an hour and a half and you have hair for the rest of your life. It used to look a bit cabbage patchy, but now it’s all filled in. some people have a great shaped skull. Mine is pointed and I look better in hair.”

I love the fact we can talk so openly and without any kind of embarrassment about teeth and hair and wives and mothers. That’s the one thing years of therapy has not let him get over, his need to be so blissfully accommodating.
He doesn’t seem remotely tired after his two hours on stage, but his knee is hurting from when he acted out how Graham Chapman used to go around on his hands and knees at cocktail parties biting people like a dog. It hurts him every night but he doesn’t cut it out of the show. Chapman was one of the original Pythons, but extremely wild and an alcoholic. He died in 1989.
The next morning he is up early and we talk over non-dairy cappuccinos. It’s cold and bright and I have been thinking more about his relationship with therapy. He’s always been fascinated by it. Perhaps one of the most fascinating therapists of all was Robin Skynner (psychotherapist and bomber pilot) with whom he wrote a seminal book, Families And How To Survive Them. I say seminal because I’ve given it to many people in crisis and it’s helped them understand why they chose the person/life/thing that now was driving them demented. I used to use it as character reference background to all my interviewees. For instance a youngest child, a middle child, an older child, and an only child all come with very different sets of problems and perspectives. He and Skynner wrote the book together. “Robin used to use the phrase we finish up teaching what we most need to learn ourselves.”

Immersing himself in therapy did not stop him from having a similar relationship over and over again with a different person. “I think there’s definitely a tendency to go for the same type of person again and again. I remember reading in John Mortimer’s autobiography that he was constantly in his office with couples who were about to get divorced and they were immediately getting married to somebody who seemed exactly like the one they were divorcing. And that was a lawyer with very little interest perhaps in psychology.
“I saw a therapist in Santa Barbara who told me that if you have a highly neurotic mother, that when you meet someone who most people say woops, back away, this one is neurotic, you think nothing of it after what you’ve been through with your mother. So instead of seeing it as a danger signal you think it’s something you can cope with, and because it’s familiar you are drawn to it. There is a feeling that one is drawn back to the original experience of when you tried to make your mother happy and failed so you will try to find someone else who is a bit like your mum and make them happy. So there’s repetition.”

Another therapist in San Francisco called John Pentland – he ran the Gurdjieff Movements in America, told him ‘We are not united people. We are lots of different people in the same skin and a particular stimulus will bring one of our personalities forward. For instance you’d be different to the Queen to how you are with an ex-lover. And we are all trying to seek unity.’ And I think this underlies a lot of the sacred traditions. A lot of Christ’s teaching is about this. The parables are really about different aspects of ourselves that have to be reconciled if we are to have any unity as human beings.”

We talk enthusiastically about different therapists and therapies. Cleese is a wonderful teacher because his mind is ordered and precise and he’s very non-judgmental, and he always wants to answer questions precisely, enjoying truth and revelation rather than fear of it. Although one suspects that is precisely because at one point in his life he did fear revelation.
And what was he looking for in all the many, many therapists he’s seen? “A number of things. I think affection is incredibly important. It brings out the best in us and it relaxes us.” He doesn’t mean he was looking for affection from the therapists. He was wanting to understand how affection works. These days Cleese seems a very warm affectionate person, but it’s something he’s worked on.

“Yes, but I had to learn it and because at public school if you put your arm around someone you’re immediately thought to be homosexual and beyond redemption. I remember at college there was an American exchange student. He came to Clifton College for a year on exchange and we had a cricket match at the end of term. After we’d finished he came into the changing room to say goodbye and said ‘I don’t know if we’ll ever see each other again’ and he gave me a hug and I remember being very shocked at being hugged by another man. I think touch is very important to human beings.”
Cleese these days is eminently touchable and touching. His mother of course was not so comfortable with it, but his father “was very physically affectionate. He was a kind man.”
I remember reading that his father was such a kind person he was shocked to find that the world was not so kind and the contrast was acute. “I don’t remember saying that but I would say it’s a bit of a shock to realise the world is a much worse place than I ever thought when I was young. Which is why my next show that I’m working on is called Why There Is No Hope and that we are run by power seekers.” He intends it to be a comedy. Once again finding release in all things dark.
He’s also just finished writing a stage version of A Fish Called Wanda with his daughter Camilla. He’s getting round to translating a Feydeau farce for the stage and writing his autobiography and presenting a TV show about history with Matthew D’Ancona.

Wanda may well turn out to be a musical. More interesting than the project itself was working with Camilla. “Once I thought I would be doing it with Camilla it became much more exciting. She’s come up with some great ideas. We are very similar. She was brought up in America because her mother is American.”
He is very close to Camilla now but again had to seek the help of a therapist because she had problems with alcohol addiction and he had to give her a deadline that unless she sought help herself he wouldn’t be able to help her. I don’t think the tough love concept came easily to him and he’s extremely proud of Camilla now he tells me quite a few times.

Camilla is the daughter of his second wife Barbara Trentham, an actress he married in 1981 after splitting from his first wife of ten years, co-writer and co-star of Fawlty Towers, Connie Booth a few years before. He has another daughter, Cynthia, who is also a scriptwriter from his marriage to Booth. From what I’ve heard and read, the daughters did not get on with Eichelberger. And they must be further irritated that she has severely diminished their inheritance.
Talking about his daughters leads back to talking about his mother. “If I took Cynthia down to see my mother in Weston-Super-Mare my mother resented the fact that the child was there because it meant she got less attention from me. I have a history of being rather placatory with women. If you have a mother who is very selfish and you don’t get much attention from her it sends you the message that you’re not worth it. And also that you’re not entitled to look after yourself, so you spend a whole lot of time servicing other people, making sure they don’t get cross.”

I do find it strange that he went into therapy to try and save the marriage with Eichelberger when she seems such an emotional vampire. “It’s because I had become placatory.” He says the word with special contempt.
Has she seen any of the show? “No. She always said that if we broke up we would never speak again and that turned out very well. I never took it seriously at the time but from the day we broke up and I called her to say you know the reputation of this lawyer you have hired…” He pauses just for a second as if he’s remembering the very moment where he knew there was no return. The lawyer had a fierce reputation. “That was the last and only time we spoke.”

He says that he is on good terms with one of her sons who is a vet in Hong Kong and with the other there has been silence. Not so good for a therapist who specialised in family relations. “She was always very much on about the importance of family and now the family has pretty much broken up. You know her boys, my daughters, their sisters…” If he is said about the break-up of family it is the only thing he’s sad about. Perhaps he regrets more that he stayed in the marriage so long. That he stayed placatory. For placatory read shackled, suppressed, diminished and without affection.
“I think I have a confidence now that I didn’t have before. It’s come in the last three or four years and I don’t know why it’s come.”
It seems a few forces have converged. The divorce was so expensive. He had to let a lot of stuff go materialistically and emotionally. He was able to reinvent who he is. There’s a certain freedom in that.

“That’s true. It’s very beneficial to reinvent yourself because you fall into patterns which aren’t relevant any more. There’s a lot of research gone on into ageing saying that you age according to your internal idea of what age means. Age means nothing to me now. I mean it means stuff when my body starts to let me down…”
What he means is he doesn’t feel old, he doesn’t feel trapped, he doesn’t feel that his ideas are tired, and he feels a new person with Wade. He looks after himself more, no wheat, no dairy, lots of vitamin pills, but more importantly “I laugh with Jenny in a way I haven’t since I was ten. It’s the utterly hopeless laughter of the ten-year-old and it’s wonderful to have that back.” He says that savouring the sentence.

What does he think is different about his relationship with Wade to his previous two wives? “It is that I was far too left brain about it all. In the past I was more ticking boxes, not having an immediate being in love thing which I did have with Connie.” Wives number three and four seem to be relationships that should have worked logically but didn’t. With Wade he says there was an instant connection similar to the one he had with his first wife. “Connie and I are great pals and I have enormous affection for her husband John Lahr.”
He talks about Booth both on and off stage with great fondness. There are no left over irritations detectable. They met in 1964 and got married in 1968. They wrote Fawlty Towers together. Everything seemed perfect. What went wrong?

“I think we found it difficult. Neither of us were emotionally mature. There was a great deal of love between us. Breaking up was very very painful. I was depressed about it for two years but I think it was the right decision. It didn’t quite work.”
I wonder was it too much living and working together? Did they argue? “I don’t quite remember. I’m sure we must have been arguing because if things aren’t right you do argue. It wasn’t nasty. We always functioned well together when we were writing together. Even the best relationships go through difficult periods. It’s not the world you read about in the tabloids. People fighting like cats and dogs or blissfully happy. I was very sad for two years and I don’t think I improved my choosing process when I met Barbara. And when I met Alyce I thought it seemed appropriate. But Alyce changed and I’m sure she feels that I changed too. Jenny is different to both of these women. With Barbara we had a fairly turbulent relationship because we married rather quickly and the turbulence followed.”

He never wore a ring with either of them. “Jenny is a jeweller, so I said why don’t you make me a little ring. In Weston-Super-Mare rings and after shave were considered as poofy and narcissistic.”
There are many references to Weston-Super-Mare, he both has a constant need to embrace it and escape it at the same time. He talks about one of the last times he went back there. His mother and Robin Skynner were both gravely ill at the same time and would die within weeks of each other.
“It was the summer of 2000 and I was going to spend a week with Robin who was ill and then a week with my mother, but my mother became seriously ill and I spent the whole two weeks with her. I knew Robin was not long for this planet, so I left my mother. I was only able to have lunch with Robin. Then my mother went into a coma so I went back down. Robin died without me spending proper time with him. My mother always needed my attention.”

He tells this story with great sadness, but not with any anger or bitterness. We talk some more about Skynner and his family systems exercise – a group of people are in a room and they walk round and choose one other person on the basis that they remind them of someone in their family or someone that they’d like to have in their family. They sit down and find that they have a similar emotional history. The theory is you choose partners because you automatically identify with their neurosis even if you don’t see them straight away.

“There were times when I thought I would love to have had a sister because I found my mother’s behaviour so extraordinary. I would love to have said what the hell is this about?” As an only child he had no one to share with. He had to take the full responsibility for himself and share it all with an audience many years later. His mother was 40 and his father 46 when he was born and was constantly reminded by his mother that they had never planned to have children. His mother would tell him that he was a mistake.

“My father was in the war and after that he thought only in terms of getting steady jobs. At school he made me sad if I became enthused about chess or fencing. He never took that spontaneous enthusiasm for something very seriously.” Perhaps that was after being in the First World War he didn’t want to do anything risky again. He must have seen so many people die. “I remember him talking about being in the trenches and the man next to him being shot saying it was just like Private Ryan and the man next to him was crying for his mother. It’s extraordinary Chrissy. I remember thinking, why would he cry for her?” He’s laughing but he means it.

“I was a good boy really.” He had an outlet for really bad behaviour on stage. “Yes, that’s true. I can say almost anything to audiences and get away with it.” This comes as a direct result of what he could and couldn’t get away with with his mother.
The previous night he told about a sketch he did with Chapman. Chapman was the undertaker. “I said to him my mother’s dead and I don’t know what to do. He said, ‘No problem squire. We can burn her, bury her or dump her’ and I said what do you mean dump her and he said ‘put her in the Thames or a skip.’ And I said no, no, let’s do it properly and I pull out a sack that has the body in it and Graham says ‘I think we’ve got an eater’ and I say are you seriously suggesting I eat my mother. Long pause. ‘Not raw. Cooked’. Then I say I’m a bit peckish but I’m not going to eat mum. And he said ‘tell you what. Let’s eat her neck and if you feel guilty afterwards you’ll vomit and then we’ll bury the vomit’.”

I enjoyed the story because it explains so much of Cleese. There are so many metaphors involved in that one sketch. He’s still vomiting up his mother and being nurtured by the laughter. Finally he’s with an un-neurotic woman who is nothing like his mother and he’s really happy and grateful to have escaped her.
He says he’s not doing the tour and working so hard just for money even though he needed to acquire some to pay the hefty divorce demands. “I am not super money conscious. I just want to check that I’m not going to run out. I’ve always been easy come easy go. Before I married Alyce I had one house in London and no mortgage. And after a few years of marriage we had seven properties and I was racing around spending all my earnings servicing properties. I can simplify my life now once I’ve got Alyce’s payment out of the way I can live in a much smaller way.”

He is not planning on returning to Britain full-time. “I don’t want to go through another English winter. It takes years off your life. I get terrible chest infections and the grey skies make me so gloomy. The sunshine picks me up. Rather than California I might try the Caribbean. Balminess is what I seek.” He’s less enamoured with California these days. It’s gloomier these days because there’s a recession going on.

What is his greatest extravagance? “Probably food. Not necessarily incredibly expensive restaurants. A good Indian or a good Chinese will do. I just think food is such an extraordinary pleasure.” What makes him happy? “A day off. Reading a book. And Jenny’s company. I might take a little exercise. Go for a walk with Jenny. I always felt that I had to make everyone else alright before I could get on with my life, and Jenny is like that, almost to a fault. She spends an inordinate amount of time worrying about other people.”

He doesn’t know how it’s happened. It seems not through therapy, more by coincidence, if such a thing exists, that finally he’s got someone who worries about him and he’s very much enjoying it. It seems to make him enjoy everything else more.
Is he nervous of going on stage? “Not any more. Not really. It’s more a question of energy, not so much fear. The audience have bought tickets. They wall want to see me. You get a warm welcome…

“For the first three quarters of my professional life I was much more concerned not to be bad than I was to be good. And I did most of my best work under that feeling.”
In the show he talks about all the good work that he’s done ending when he did Wanda at 50. After that it didn’t really matter. Does he really think that? “The three outstanding things I’ve done in my life were all before 50. It’s a kind of joke, but there was a time when I was racing around doing all the jobs that were offered to me because of my need for high earnings…”

He smiles knowing that his life is simpler and happier and he will only do the work that he enjoys. But best of all he doesn’t hope that he won’t be bad. He knows he’ll be pretty good.

Jennifer Saunders

I meet Jennifer Saunders just outside the theatre where Viva – the Spice Girls musical which she is wrote – is rehearsing. We are to have a late breakfast. She arrives in a camouflage jacket with diamond studs and a multi-coloured scarf, choppy blonde hair and an alarmingly fresh face and her usual slightly peering eyes. She announces, ‘I’m so hung over. I think I still have a level of alcohol in my blood. By lunchtime I’ll be tired.’
She had a weekend party and this morning has been looking after her new grandson Freddie and coos she has been in bed with the baby. ‘I had a proper little cuddle. He’s divine.
‘When he enters the room everyone starts looking at him and when he leaves the room people start looking at pictures of them on the phone. I don’t know what type of child he will grow up to be because he has people worshipping him all the time – Freddie worship. The other girls love him too.’ Freddie is the son of her eldest daughter Ella.
Saunders seems to have no worries about being a grandmother at 54. ‘I absolutely love it. People say isn’t it weird seeing your baby having a baby and it kind of isn’t. It doesn’t feel weird at all. I love having a baby around and I never had a boy child. I did want a boy child because I had this romantic idea that a boy child when he’s 16 takes his mother out for dinner. I think I once saw that in a restaurant, a boy taking out his mother for her birthday. I’m going to have to force Freddie to do that now.’
We discuss the lack of stress in the grandparent grandchild relationship. ‘I haven’t got the responsibility of sending him to school or telling him off. He’s simply there to be worshipped.’
She thinks it’s a strange time for an interview, not quite breakfast, not quite lunch (11am). We order scrambled eggs and toast, perfect hangover food, but the Café Zedel can’t cook until lunchtime and instead they offer us boiled eggs and giant pastries, pain au chocolats the size of brogues.
Saunders is amused, her face arranges itself into a supercilious giggle. She offers a similar expression when I ask wasn’t she surprised to be asked to write Viva Forever! The Spice Girls musical after French and Saunders had mercilessly sent up The Spice Girls in their spoof The Sugar Lumps and the Mamma Mia sketch they did for Comic Relief – Mamma Mia creator Judy Craymer is the impresaria behind Viva.
Craymer called Saunders’ agent to see if she was interested and that was deemed to be a very good sign. ‘It meant a) she doesn’t take herself too seriously, and b) she has a good sense of humour. I immediately thought I am the one who is going to do this. No one else is going to do this. I have to do this thing.
‘When Dawn and I were The Sugar Lumps we always used to go to Spice Girls shows. My girls loved them and I thought I don’t want someone to mess this up for my girls.
‘I don’t have a favourite Spice, I love all of them. Well, maybe my favourite is Emma because I’ve worked with her a lot, but Mel C is also delightful. When you see them now they just are that same gang, they fit into all those roles again. A little bit badly behaved, a little bit loud. You never felt they had to behave. That’s what I always loved about them.
‘Victoria is really funny. She’s the most naturally witty one. She doesn’t take herself seriously, she just looks as though she does.
‘I love Geri’s energy. I love Mel B’s refusal to say anything she doesn’t mean. And the truth is I love the songs. And they actually have their own narrative which makes it easier to write around.
‘There were certain themes, here’s me and my mates, don’t fuck with me and my mates, let’s misbehave. And then a story came.
‘Loosely the story is adopted girl, mother wants to let her go, can’t let her go, is over protective, and then…
‘She doesn’t really want to find her biological mother but she’s on a TV talent show that thinks it would be a really good idea. You see it on X Factor. They have chosen the one with the story.’
Did she conceive this idea when her own daughters were leaving home? ‘No, but I have had that empty nest syndrome. When the girls left it was a slow grieving process. you go, oh look, we’re just on our own again. It’s my husband and me. Oh, What do we do now? “Good Morning.” “Yes, good morning to you”.’ She says this pulling her awkward face. She and husband Ade Edmondson have been married for 27 years and the period of just them together in a big house has not been prolonged as he is about to tour with two different bands, The Bad Shepherds and The Idiot Bastard Band.
‘Gradually you adjust. You miss them. You miss their friends too. You miss the general hubbub of people always being there.
‘I didn’t think about empty nests when I was writing this. It was more having to let someone go out and make their own mistakes. You can’t learn from other people’s mistakes.’
Was it based on the relationship she had with her mother? ‘No, that relationship was much more old fashioned. I mean you would call your mother’s friends Mrs. Nowadays you would call everyone by their Christian name. it was quite formal and I am emotional with my kids. They see the shit as well as the good. I was brought up really well. I had boundaries where if you crossed the line you know you are in trouble. I think my kids sort of get that.
‘I don’t think I was a great rebel except in my head. I’ve never been able to do rows. I cannot do confrontation. You know that fight or flight thing? I’m flight. I just don’t want the argument.’
Eggs arrive. At first we don’t know if they are hard-boiled or soft-boiled. Saunders takes it and attempts to peel it, pauses, ‘If it cracks now we’re in shit.’ It’s a cold hard-boiled egg.
She says that after her father died of cancer eight years ago the dynamic changed in the relationship with her mother. ‘We became much closer. She is a coper. She was born to cope. She is strong and funny. She had a stroke and I was there. She forgets words and cries with laughter when the wrong ones come out. We literally laughed her way through the stroke. By the time the paramedics arrived she was crying real tears of laughter, probably to do with relief. But she said, “Will you go up to the donkey upstairs and bring down my…” The donkey? She meant draws. She just laughed and laughed. She recovered well because she’s a doer and a coper.’
Saunders moved to Devon to bring up her children and now lives mostly in London, the reverse of most people.

It is very rare for Saunders to look right at you. Most of the time she mumbles into her scarf or looks away, allowing me to get a good look at her skin which is dewy smooth, hardly any wrinkles.
The idea for Viva came up in 2009. They narrowed it down to which songs they wanted to use and she started to write the treatment.
‘I think we started in January, so I was three months into chemotherapy,’ she says matter of factly. She has never overplayed her cancer, never come over the victim. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2009. She has never used the word battle and I feel would wince if it was ever used for her. It’s one of those things that she probably didn’t like to confront, she shrugged it off because she’s a coper.
How was it possible to write on chemo? ‘I don’t know. Luckily Judy was very sympathetic. I remember struggling to organise my thoughts. When you are doing chemo you have a load of time. I just thought I am not not going to do this job and by the time I’m finished it everything will be fine. Judy would be so brilliant she would come round the house with a bottle of vodka and the tunes and we would sit and drink.’
Vodka and chemo? ‘Oh yes,’ she says jauntily. Really? ‘Oh yes. You can drink when you are doing chemo. You’ve got so much shit in your body you may as well be drunk. We sat and listened to the songs endlessly and it was so helpful.
‘Why do we need to listen to these songs again and again? She was right. It’s the only way in.’
Most people might lie down and vomit. Singing Spice Girls songs and writing a musical does sound a rather extraordinary way to get through chemo. It sounds superhuman.
‘No, not really. Some people hold down full-time jobs. I didn’t have a vomit problem. Didn’t feel vomity at all. I ha brilliant anti-sickness medication and it worked. For some people it works well and some people it doesn’t. I was very lucky. There are some days when you feel a bit grim and other days, you know, towards the end of a session, okay and you know it’s not killing you. Just makes you feel rotten.’
I note the way she doesn’t say I she says you to distance herself from it but I am struck by her strength and bravery. I just did a week of antibiotics and felt suicidal.
What is it really like? ‘You feel chemical, that’s what you feel. You feel you are part of a big chemical thing but you tell yourself it’s a cure not a disease and you’ve got to get rid of the disease. The chemo is the belt and braces. It feels shit when it’s working.
‘You think, yes I feel absolutely shit, it’s doing its job and you just get on with it, you get on with stuff.’
Did she have any paranoia moments of depression? ‘No. sometimes you feel horrible. Sometimes you feel emotional. And then sometimes when you see your skin goes to fuck you have moments where you think I hate this. But there’s always a point where you think you might as well get over it and life gets back vaguely to normal.’
Are things normal? Has she finished the meds? ‘No, you don’t finish. I’m still on hormone therapy and I’ll be on that for the rest of my life. It’s the reverse of HRT, it takes all your hormones away. It takes all your oestrogen away because what I can’t have is oestrogen because my cancer is oestrogen sensitive. You go on to tamoxifen or some other oestrogen therapy which takes the hormones our so you are basically in menopause. You are from the moment you start chemo because it kills everything.
‘In a funny way, more than the actual chemo, which I found was a grit your teeth and get through it kind of thing, I found the hormone thing a more subtle change and it was much harder to take. You are plunged into menopause. It makes you depressed. That whole side of you, what it is to be a woman, which is hormones, it just goes. You have to get through it but it takes a while.
‘It took me a year on tamoxifen to get used to it, to not be grieving for your oestrogen. It’s an odd thing but I found that much harder than chemo. It’s the thing they least warn you about. They go right, now we go on tamoxifen and everything will be fine. You have to do it. I hated the tamoxifen when I first got on it. I don’t hate it now because I’m adjusted to it. I thought there has to be something else.
‘I went to the doctor and asked him: Is there another drug? He is the most brilliant doctor and he explained to me: If you were my wife I would insist you take this. And he explained: What it needs is someone to really explain how important it is to you and the side effects. They are quite psychological but also physical. And I honestly imagined that I would very quickly turn into a very small leather handbag.’ She makes a creaking sound of a small leather thing.
Having an instant menopause rather than a gradual thing seems to be the most difficult thing for her. ‘I get very depressed and I’m still on anti-depressants. I see it as you need to boost yourself up because suddenly you have no oestrogen and your serotonin goes down, everything depletes and you start thinking…’ She makes a moaning sound. ‘So take a bit of anti-depressant and it’s fine again. It’s a juggling act, isn’t it, what to put in and what not to, but I find I am happy now.
‘I am free of cancer. I did this thing the other day where my doctor said do you want to have a big scan. You know when some people have cancer they are totally neurotic and worried about it coming back, which has never bothered actually because I just say it’s not coming back, it’s fine.
‘But he said, you know your insurance will pay for you to have a full MRI, CAT and all these other scans and it’s two years since you’ve finished your treatment. Two years is the peak of possible recurrence, so I went and did it. The weird thing is I’ve never been to a hospital in my life until the cancer thing, but I kind of like going into clinics now. Oh, I’m going into this one and that one. Do take some blood. I find it kind of reassuring.
‘I did grieve a bit when I wasn’t having the chemo any more. I was used to sitting in the little chair and then the nurse would come and do it. It was like that was your job for that long and it was reassuring. So the thought of one of these scans made me think “Oh that would be quite nice, won’t it.” You get injections, go a bit radioactive, then you get put in the big banging machine for a bit. I actually quite enjoyed it.’
I tell that is kind of weird and she must have been deprived of attention as a child in a big way. She laughs, ‘Yes. But I do love that stuff now. Bang, bang, bang, oh it’s my turn.’
Actually she is the opposite of attention seeking. She kept her cancer quiet until she had finished her chemo. She had been seen a couple of times but no one guessed she was wearing a wig. ‘I had very good wigs. Two of them. One was a real hair wig which was a lot of trouble. I was lucky in that most of the chemo happened during the winter so you could just wear hats. I didn’t mind that aspect of it.
‘What is weird is all of your hair falls out. Everything. Your eyebrows. Your pubic hair. Your leg hair, arm hair, your nose hair. The weirdest thing is your nose hair because you are constantly snivelling and you get nose bleeds a lot. You are a bald person with a nose bleed. I didn’t mind that and it’s a funny thing. Of all the things to care about my hair was the least thing I cared about. At least I didn’t have to have a wax for the best part of a year.
‘Hair grows back and it comes back everywhere. I was looking at my face and thinking it’s so hairy. Suddenly everywhere was hairy.’
We try to order toast instead of the giant pastries. Instead a waiter arrives with bread. Everything we ordered had been got wrong. ‘This is the most hilarious breakfast I’ve ever had.’
Soon she must go to the theatre for a run through. Did the Spice Girls have any changes they wanted to make? ‘No, nothing like that. They could make suggestions but generally they were enthusiastic and nice.’
After this what else does she have coming up? ‘I’m thinking about a film of AbFab on the basis that The Inbetweeners was a successful film. I don’t know about doing more telly. I’m thinking of setting it in the South of France. I always imagine the Riviera life, that search for the nostalgic idea of glamour… It’s hard for me to think beyond press night at the moment.’
She still rides horses although not as much as she used to. ‘Ade said, “You’ve had a good run, but if you fall off…” And he was like: Just stop. At the moment I’ve just started with a power plate. It’s a thing that jiggles you stand on it and do certain positions. I’ve also tried to start jogging. But I walk my dog a lot.’
Her dog is a whippet called Olive. ‘She’s the most beautiful dog in the world. Everyone knows Olive. The other day I was at the station in Devon and I had Olive and there was a woman who looked at Olive and recognised her. “Oh, it must be Jennifer Saunders because this is Olive.”‘ She puts on proud dog mother face which is very similar to proud grandmother.
Her skin does not look grandmother like. ‘It’s ridiculous that I’m a grandmother but it’s the nicest thing. Sometimes I do think a bit of Botox might be good but I haven’t done anything. I think I should really give up drinking for a bit then I’d lose weight, but then I think I can’t be bothered. It’s just so nice to have a drink.’

© Chrissy Iley 2012
I meet Jennifer Saunders just outside the theatre where Viva – the Spice Girls musical which she is wrote – is rehearsing. We are to have a late breakfast. She arrives in a camouflage jacket with diamond studs and a multi-coloured scarf, choppy blonde hair and an alarmingly fresh face and her usual slightly peering eyes. She announces, ‘I’m so hung over. I think I still have a level of alcohol in my blood. By lunchtime I’ll be tired.’
She had a weekend party and this morning has been looking after her new grandson Freddie and coos she has been in bed with the baby. ‘I had a proper little cuddle. He’s divine.
‘When he enters the room everyone starts looking at him and when he leaves the room people start looking at pictures of them on the phone. I don’t know what type of child he will grow up to be because he has people worshipping him all the time – Freddie worship. The other girls love him too.’ Freddie is the son of her eldest daughter Ella.
Saunders seems to have no worries about being a grandmother at 54. ‘I absolutely love it. People say isn’t it weird seeing your baby having a baby and it kind of isn’t. It doesn’t feel weird at all. I love having a baby around and I never had a boy child. I did want a boy child because I had this romantic idea that a boy child when he’s 16 takes his mother out for dinner. I think I once saw that in a restaurant, a boy taking out his mother for her birthday. I’m going to have to force Freddie to do that now.’
We discuss the lack of stress in the grandparent grandchild relationship. ‘I haven’t got the responsibility of sending him to school or telling him off. He’s simply there to be worshipped.’
She thinks it’s a strange time for an interview, not quite breakfast, not quite lunch (11am). We order scrambled eggs and toast, perfect hangover food, but the Café Zedel can’t cook until lunchtime and instead they offer us boiled eggs and giant pastries, pain au chocolats the size of brogues.
Saunders is amused, her face arranges itself into a supercilious giggle. She offers a similar expression when I ask wasn’t she surprised to be asked to write Viva Forever! The Spice Girls musical after French and Saunders had mercilessly sent up The Spice Girls in their spoof The Sugar Lumps and the Mamma Mia sketch they did for Comic Relief – Mamma Mia creator Judy Craymer is the impresaria behind Viva.
Craymer called Saunders’ agent to see if she was interested and that was deemed to be a very good sign. ‘It meant a) she doesn’t take herself too seriously, and b) she has a good sense of humour. I immediately thought I am the one who is going to do this. No one else is going to do this. I have to do this thing.
‘When Dawn and I were The Sugar Lumps we always used to go to Spice Girls shows. My girls loved them and I thought I don’t want someone to mess this up for my girls.
‘I don’t have a favourite Spice, I love all of them. Well, maybe my favourite is Emma because I’ve worked with her a lot, but Mel C is also delightful. When you see them now they just are that same gang, they fit into all those roles again. A little bit badly behaved, a little bit loud. You never felt they had to behave. That’s what I always loved about them.
‘Victoria is really funny. She’s the most naturally witty one. She doesn’t take herself seriously, she just looks as though she does.
‘I love Geri’s energy. I love Mel B’s refusal to say anything she doesn’t mean. And the truth is I love the songs. And they actually have their own narrative which makes it easier to write around.
‘There were certain themes, here’s me and my mates, don’t fuck with me and my mates, let’s misbehave. And then a story came.
‘Loosely the story is adopted girl, mother wants to let her go, can’t let her go, is over protective, and then…
‘She doesn’t really want to find her biological mother but she’s on a TV talent show that thinks it would be a really good idea. You see it on X Factor. They have chosen the one with the story.’
Did she conceive this idea when her own daughters were leaving home? ‘No, but I have had that empty nest syndrome. When the girls left it was a slow grieving process. you go, oh look, we’re just on our own again. It’s my husband and me. Oh, What do we do now? “Good Morning.” “Yes, good morning to you”.’ She says this pulling her awkward face. She and husband Ade Edmondson have been married for 27 years and the period of just them together in a big house has not been prolonged as he is about to tour with two different bands, The Bad Shepherds and The Idiot Bastard Band.
‘Gradually you adjust. You miss them. You miss their friends too. You miss the general hubbub of people always being there.
‘I didn’t think about empty nests when I was writing this. It was more having to let someone go out and make their own mistakes. You can’t learn from other people’s mistakes.’
Was it based on the relationship she had with her mother? ‘No, that relationship was much more old fashioned. I mean you would call your mother’s friends Mrs. Nowadays you would call everyone by their Christian name. it was quite formal and I am emotional with my kids. They see the shit as well as the good. I was brought up really well. I had boundaries where if you crossed the line you know you are in trouble. I think my kids sort of get that.
‘I don’t think I was a great rebel except in my head. I’ve never been able to do rows. I cannot do confrontation. You know that fight or flight thing? I’m flight. I just don’t want the argument.’
Eggs arrive. At first we don’t know if they are hard-boiled or soft-boiled. Saunders takes it and attempts to peel it, pauses, ‘If it cracks now we’re in shit.’ It’s a cold hard-boiled egg.
She says that after her father died of cancer eight years ago the dynamic changed in the relationship with her mother. ‘We became much closer. She is a coper. She was born to cope. She is strong and funny. She had a stroke and I was there. She forgets words and cries with laughter when the wrong ones come out. We literally laughed her way through the stroke. By the time the paramedics arrived she was crying real tears of laughter, probably to do with relief. But she said, “Will you go up to the donkey upstairs and bring down my…” The donkey? She meant draws. She just laughed and laughed. She recovered well because she’s a doer and a coper.’
Saunders moved to Devon to bring up her children and now lives mostly in London, the reverse of most people.

It is very rare for Saunders to look right at you. Most of the time she mumbles into her scarf or looks away, allowing me to get a good look at her skin which is dewy smooth, hardly any wrinkles.
The idea for Viva came up in 2009. They narrowed it down to which songs they wanted to use and she started to write the treatment.
‘I think we started in January, so I was three months into chemotherapy,’ she says matter of factly. She has never overplayed her cancer, never come over the victim. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2009. She has never used the word battle and I feel would wince if it was ever used for her. It’s one of those things that she probably didn’t like to confront, she shrugged it off because she’s a coper.
How was it possible to write on chemo? ‘I don’t know. Luckily Judy was very sympathetic. I remember struggling to organise my thoughts. When you are doing chemo you have a load of time. I just thought I am not not going to do this job and by the time I’m finished it everything will be fine. Judy would be so brilliant she would come round the house with a bottle of vodka and the tunes and we would sit and drink.’
Vodka and chemo? ‘Oh yes,’ she says jauntily. Really? ‘Oh yes. You can drink when you are doing chemo. You’ve got so much shit in your body you may as well be drunk. We sat and listened to the songs endlessly and it was so helpful.
‘Why do we need to listen to these songs again and again? She was right. It’s the only way in.’
Most people might lie down and vomit. Singing Spice Girls songs and writing a musical does sound a rather extraordinary way to get through chemo. It sounds superhuman.
‘No, not really. Some people hold down full-time jobs. I didn’t have a vomit problem. Didn’t feel vomity at all. I ha brilliant anti-sickness medication and it worked. For some people it works well and some people it doesn’t. I was very lucky. There are some days when you feel a bit grim and other days, you know, towards the end of a session, okay and you know it’s not killing you. Just makes you feel rotten.’
I note the way she doesn’t say I she says you to distance herself from it but I am struck by her strength and bravery. I just did a week of antibiotics and felt suicidal.
What is it really like? ‘You feel chemical, that’s what you feel. You feel you are part of a big chemical thing but you tell yourself it’s a cure not a disease and you’ve got to get rid of the disease. The chemo is the belt and braces. It feels shit when it’s working.
‘You think, yes I feel absolutely shit, it’s doing its job and you just get on with it, you get on with stuff.’
Did she have any paranoia moments of depression? ‘No. sometimes you feel horrible. Sometimes you feel emotional. And then sometimes when you see your skin goes to fuck you have moments where you think I hate this. But there’s always a point where you think you might as well get over it and life gets back vaguely to normal.’
Are things normal? Has she finished the meds? ‘No, you don’t finish. I’m still on hormone therapy and I’ll be on that for the rest of my life. It’s the reverse of HRT, it takes all your hormones away. It takes all your oestrogen away because what I can’t have is oestrogen because my cancer is oestrogen sensitive. You go on to tamoxifen or some other oestrogen therapy which takes the hormones our so you are basically in menopause. You are from the moment you start chemo because it kills everything.
‘In a funny way, more than the actual chemo, which I found was a grit your teeth and get through it kind of thing, I found the hormone thing a more subtle change and it was much harder to take. You are plunged into menopause. It makes you depressed. That whole side of you, what it is to be a woman, which is hormones, it just goes. You have to get through it but it takes a while.
‘It took me a year on tamoxifen to get used to it, to not be grieving for your oestrogen. It’s an odd thing but I found that much harder than chemo. It’s the thing they least warn you about. They go right, now we go on tamoxifen and everything will be fine. You have to do it. I hated the tamoxifen when I first got on it. I don’t hate it now because I’m adjusted to it. I thought there has to be something else.
‘I went to the doctor and asked him: Is there another drug? He is the most brilliant doctor and he explained to me: If you were my wife I would insist you take this. And he explained: What it needs is someone to really explain how important it is to you and the side effects. They are quite psychological but also physical. And I honestly imagined that I would very quickly turn into a very small leather handbag.’ She makes a creaking sound of a small leather thing.
Having an instant menopause rather than a gradual thing seems to be the most difficult thing for her. ‘I get very depressed and I’m still on anti-depressants. I see it as you need to boost yourself up because suddenly you have no oestrogen and your serotonin goes down, everything depletes and you start thinking…’ She makes a moaning sound. ‘So take a bit of anti-depressant and it’s fine again. It’s a juggling act, isn’t it, what to put in and what not to, but I find I am happy now.
‘I am free of cancer. I did this thing the other day where my doctor said do you want to have a big scan. You know when some people have cancer they are totally neurotic and worried about it coming back, which has never bothered actually because I just say it’s not coming back, it’s fine.
‘But he said, you know your insurance will pay for you to have a full MRI, CAT and all these other scans and it’s two years since you’ve finished your treatment. Two years is the peak of possible recurrence, so I went and did it. The weird thing is I’ve never been to a hospital in my life until the cancer thing, but I kind of like going into clinics now. Oh, I’m going into this one and that one. Do take some blood. I find it kind of reassuring.
‘I did grieve a bit when I wasn’t having the chemo any more. I was used to sitting in the little chair and then the nurse would come and do it. It was like that was your job for that long and it was reassuring. So the thought of one of these scans made me think “Oh that would be quite nice, won’t it.” You get injections, go a bit radioactive, then you get put in the big banging machine for a bit. I actually quite enjoyed it.’
I tell that is kind of weird and she must have been deprived of attention as a child in a big way. She laughs, ‘Yes. But I do love that stuff now. Bang, bang, bang, oh it’s my turn.’
Actually she is the opposite of attention seeking. She kept her cancer quiet until she had finished her chemo. She had been seen a couple of times but no one guessed she was wearing a wig. ‘I had very good wigs. Two of them. One was a real hair wig which was a lot of trouble. I was lucky in that most of the chemo happened during the winter so you could just wear hats. I didn’t mind that aspect of it.
‘What is weird is all of your hair falls out. Everything. Your eyebrows. Your pubic hair. Your leg hair, arm hair, your nose hair. The weirdest thing is your nose hair because you are constantly snivelling and you get nose bleeds a lot. You are a bald person with a nose bleed. I didn’t mind that and it’s a funny thing. Of all the things to care about my hair was the least thing I cared about. At least I didn’t have to have a wax for the best part of a year.
‘Hair grows back and it comes back everywhere. I was looking at my face and thinking it’s so hairy. Suddenly everywhere was hairy.’
We try to order toast instead of the giant pastries. Instead a waiter arrives with bread. Everything we ordered had been got wrong. ‘This is the most hilarious breakfast I’ve ever had.’
Soon she must go to the theatre for a run through. Did the Spice Girls have any changes they wanted to make? ‘No, nothing like that. They could make suggestions but generally they were enthusiastic and nice.’
After this what else does she have coming up? ‘I’m thinking about a film of AbFab on the basis that The Inbetweeners was a successful film. I don’t know about doing more telly. I’m thinking of setting it in the South of France. I always imagine the Riviera life, that search for the nostalgic idea of glamour… It’s hard for me to think beyond press night at the moment.’
She still rides horses although not as much as she used to. ‘Ade said, “You’ve had a good run, but if you fall off…” And he was like: Just stop. At the moment I’ve just started with a power plate. It’s a thing that jiggles you stand on it and do certain positions. I’ve also tried to start jogging. But I walk my dog a lot.’
Her dog is a whippet called Olive. ‘She’s the most beautiful dog in the world. Everyone knows Olive. The other day I was at the station in Devon and I had Olive and there was a woman who looked at Olive and recognised her. “Oh, it must be Jennifer Saunders because this is Olive.”‘ She puts on proud dog mother face which is very similar to proud grandmother.
Her skin does not look grandmother like. ‘It’s ridiculous that I’m a grandmother but it’s the nicest thing. Sometimes I do think a bit of Botox might be good but I haven’t done anything. I think I should really give up drinking for a bit then I’d lose weight, but then I think I can’t be bothered. It’s just so nice to have a drink.’

Click here to read Chrissy’s interview with Joanna Lumley

Demi Moore

I am waiting for Demi Moore in the lounge bar of the Gramercy Park Hotel. It’s velvety and dark. When she enters the room she takes it. It crackles with her arrival. Yet she is small alone, no entourage, no assistant, no publicist. Walking slightly oddly taking tiny steps with her legs a little too close together. She sinks to the velvet besides me. “Look. I bent over and popped a button on my skirt.” It’s a denim pencil skirt. She had to walk with a hobble because the last button, the one just above the knee was the one that had sped away leaving the skirt to open too wide and too high. She asks our waitress for a “half caff latte” and a sewing kit.

She is wearing a pretty chiffony blue and white blouse, her hair long and lustrous, her eyes small but glittering like dark diamonds. She has a presence but it’s not necessarily the one you’d expect, not in any way haughty or demanding. There’s a sweetness to her embarrassment of walking in a room with a broken skirt, not knowing who in that room was me.

She is instantly open, touchable. “I am in New York because my husband is shooting a movie here.” She uses the phrase “my husband” a lot and she shows you a soft glow as she says it. Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore made big news when they got together because of the 15 year age gap. I tell her I’ve met him a couple of times and I found him very knowing, very sweet and the term old soul does not seem a cliche for him. “I agree with you on that. It’s a hard thing for me to describe exactly how he is. Who he is on a soul level has definitely lived beyond his now 29 years. There’s so much more that he just gets, even if he hasn’t had the physical experience he seems to have a knowing.” She smiles beatifically.

Demi Moore is softer, sweeter than you’d ever imagine. You sense though that she too has had a few lifetimes, a harsh upbringing, never in one place for long with alcoholic parents and a stepfather who committed suicide when she was 17. Plagued by illness throughout her childhood, driven into an imaginary world, a drive of super force that got her to Blame It On Rio. Engaged to Emilio Estevez in the Brat Pack heat of the mid-Eighties, broke it off to become one half of one of the decade’s most famous couples with Bruce Willis. In 1996 she gave up on Hollywood to move permanently to Idaho to bring up her three daughters Rumer, Scout and Tallulah now 18, 15 and 13. Soon after the marriage broke down but Demi did not.

Her screen persona always has something indesctructible about it. There’s a toughness, there’s a strength, drive, determination. Even when she was the object being traded in Indecent Proposal (Robert Redford’s character wanted to buy her) she was never a victim. She has done plenty of blockbusters – St. Elmo’s Fire, Ghost, A Few Good Men, and in 1996 she became the then highest paid actress in Hollywood getting $12.5 million for Striptease. In the same year she did GI Jane, the story of a woman Navy Seal, shaved head and one-handed press-ups in the mud.

The inescapable thing that she gives us is strength. She gives us steel. She gives us no compromise. What does she think of this perception of her? “Do you know what I think obviously there must be some strength because this is the response from more than a handful of people. It’s not something I’m conscious of, wanting to come across strong. But I think it’s there. It’s part of some of the tough and challenging experiences I’ve had in my life. That I’ve overcome them has created a sort of strength. But I never get the idea that I come over like a warrior. In a funny way I understand it and it’s also just so opposite of where I see myself and how I feel myself.”

She looks right at you as she talks and she’s not afraid to be looked right at herself. Her character in Mr Brooks – “a very twisted tale” – is the detective hunting down serial killer played by Kevin Costner, who is all the more spooky because of his friendly upstanding neighbourly qualities. She loves the juxtaposition of kindly Costner’s regular guy image and murderous unhinged calculating killer. Her character was in the throes of a divorce and was being manipulated by her husband for millions of dollars because she comes from a super privileged background. “So there were those aspects of this particular character that were very different to my life. Because she came from privilege she behaved differently. She had a rage that terrified me. She is someone who is out of control allowing their emotions to run the show. I have never been that, it is probably my biggest fear,” she says laughing her smoky crackling laugh. “She came from a safe place so she could go into those rages. Maybe some part of the privilege that she came from was a cushion that allowed that.”

Interesting that in her dramatically intense soap opera bad childhood that was filled with huge emotions of betrayal, loss, despair, disappointment, she felt she must contain her emotions. “There was one element in the story that got lost. It was an interesting character detail. She liked to pay for sex, which for me was fascinating. It was never really thought of as a woman’s choice so it was really twisted in that juicy kind of way.” The irony is not lost on her that this is the reverse plot of Indecent Proposal. She seems excited about how twisted this movie and her character is in the way that only someone whose life is far from twisted can.

Her first Hollywood ‘comeback’ was in a bikini in Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle. Impressive. Even more impressive was her role in Estevez’s Bobby as alcoholic nightclub singer Virginia Fallon which it has been said was based on her mother who was called Virginia, who was a drunk but not a singer. “He did know my mother. I’m not sure if it was specifically her but I think there were interesting elements. When he first sent me the script it was really to look at it, to see what I thought of it, it wasn’t necessarily to be in it.”

At that time Moore was in Idaho and didn’t know that this was to be part of her way out of there. The fact that Emilio had decided to call a fading singer Virginia Fallon gave it an extra piquancy. “The irony wasn’t lost on me,” she says drily. “It was a gift. Whatever parallels there were with me and my mother it was a really positive way for me to get more inside the pain that she was going through.” And the pain that you were going through. Your upbringing was hard. “It had some not so great moments. But I wouldn’t say hard. There are people who have had it worse and people who have had it not so bad. The one thing I can say is through all the nuttiness I was loved by my mum and my father.”

Her mother was only 19 when she had her. She didn’t grow up with her biological father. He left her mother before she was born. Until she was 15, Demi, named Demetria after a shampoo that her mother saw in a magazine, believed Danny Guynes was her father when in fact it was Charles Harman, a cocaine addicted vending machine salesman from Texas. Was she hurt not to have been told? Confused that for 15 years the man she thought was her father turned out to be not? “Yes and no. It was the norm of a certain kind. It was what I knew. Certainly not what I would want for my children but if I didn’t step out of how hurtful that was it would have been mind twisting for me. There were many insecurities and doubts but if I take a step back I know they made the best choices they could. They thought they were doing the right thing.”

She and her brother Morgan were constantly relocated. Guynes job as a salesman meant they moved 30 times before she was 15 and she was never in the same school for one year. She learnt to assimilate fast, to not make friends because she was going to lose them. By the time she was 12 she was cross-eyed and had to have an operation to correct a lazy eye. Then she got a kidney disease called nephrosis. The drugs she took caused body fluids to build up in her body so much that she couldn’t stand. The disease can be fatal.

When Danny Guynes committed suicide her mother spiralled into worse alcoholism. Moore became the parent. “You could either be trapped by what was going on around or you could find a way out. I think that everything, even if it is scary or good, comes into our life to register as an opportunity to help elevate and expand us as human beings. When I played Virginia Fallon it was touching a dark place that maybe I didn’t get to go to when my mother was alive, my own compassion for the pain she lived with… There was a lot of ugliness to the character of Virginia and I felt sad for that. You don’t come into this life wanting to be anything other than happy.”

It’s as if whatever unhappiness she suffered as a child she wants to touch it, understand it as an actor but never live through it. She always wants to make the choice to be happy. Sounds simple and extremely complicated. What she doesn’t want to carry with her is bitterness and she doesn’t, yet she so easily could. Bitterness would have been the easiest thing. “If I look back at my past I look at those things as my gifts. Some of my lowest points were the most exciting opportunities to push through to be a better person.” Do you mean growing up? “No, not even growing up. If I continue to peel back the layers of myself I think we all want the same things. We all want to feel loved and feel a part of but we all have self doubt no matter where we came from.” Did the extremities of your upbringing push you further away from the self doubt? “We weren’t dirt poor but we didn’t have a lot of money. I entered this career having no background or connection to acting. I had so little I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking the risk.”

She was inspired to try acting by Natassja Kinski who was a neighbour.

She had little experience but a pile of determination. She married a singer called Freddy Moore in 1980, divorced him a few years later but kept his name.

“Once tasting a bit of success it’s more challenging. We have to continue to be willing to take a risk so that we don’t get too safe. Unwillingness to risk failure is always there but it gets harder when you feel you have more to lose. So the better place to keep yourself in is one out of your comfort zone, willing to try even at the risk of failing. And that’s not natural to me at all.” She laughs and raises her perfect eyebrows at herself, “In fact it’s completely unnatural.”

Perhaps this reassessing herself has come through her interest in the kabbalah which teaches you to put yourself in a position to do what you least expect. Perhaps she has never known what a comfort zone is, so it is in fact completely natural to her. Looking over her life it seems it has been filled with risk, her career, her relationships, What does she think? What were the most exciting risks to her? “I don’t know,” she says trying to think. “I don’t live in what I was. What do you think have been my biggest risks?” I suggest that getting naked when she was hugely pregnant and posing for the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991 caused a worldwide gasp. At the time it was not deemed possible to be sexy and pregnant. She broke the taboo. She dismisses this. After all, it was one day of her life. And although it might have had a significant effect on changing people’s perceptions and others have copied it since, most recently Myleene Klass, it didn’t seem to involve personal growth for her. “I would say all of my movies were risks even if they didn’t necessarily work in a way that it was a great movie that you would have liked. I would say Striptease was a huge risk for me. It was difficult for me to do the dancing and the actual stripping, contrary to what anybody elses opinion would be. And the gain from it was different to what I would have imagined. While the external public perception was hyper focused on what I was being paid for taking my clothes off ($12.5 million), for me it was the intense focus of connecting with my body and myself in a sensual sexual way, in a way that I’ve never felt before. I was always very uncomfortable with my body. And it was to do with being female and seductive.”

It’s hard to believe that Demi Moore couldn’t have been comfortable in her perfect body. Her long delicate limbs, her pale flawless skin, are all just fleshy enough. “No, I was not. I’ve always felt much more self conscious. I felt I had to push myself to feel more feminine, a different kind of feminine. If you look at everything I’ve done before that, there weren’t a lot of highly sexual roles.”

Indeed, she was always the sweet thing or naughty thing, the vixen or victim. She was the object not the predator. “Being on stage in this character and the way in which I had to use my body made me find my sexuality. In the same way when I did GI Jane it allowed me to find a connection with the masculine part of myself.” The two films came out back to back in 1996 and indeed showed a kind of schizophrenia, absolute opposites and extremes that met in Moore. “It was fascinating. It helped doing Striptease first. I took a lot of criticism, a lot of heat, got hit really hard for both of these films, I think because there was a lot of money attached to it.” Her eyes downcast she seems embarrassed about the money rather than proud of setting a new standard for female stars. That was your gimme period I say, as in gimme more. She chuckles, a little slowly, a little uncomfortably, waits to see if I’m going to criticise. Instead I say there’s nothing wrong with asking for what you want. Hollywood male superstars were certainly being paid at least that. Bruce Willis certainly was. “Yes, having greater desire, does that make you more selfish, or does that give you more opportunity to give?”

Certainly her demands were not seen as altruistic. People were nasty, people were jealous, the bubble had burst. “Both these movies combined to give me some big lessons. I feel I betrayed women with Striptease and men with GI Jane. That wasn’t my intention but I feel that’s how it was perceived. But yes, in that sense I challenged the comfort zone. The heat hurt her. She was not indestructible. After all even now she looks sad about this. Not wanting to stay in the sadness she says brightly, “Where I am now is probably one of the moments of greatest risks in my own career. When I stepped away from working just to be with my children I never really thought about the ramifications of defecting my career.”

What was the biggest risk, going to Idaho, abandoning the career, or coming back? “When I realised I needed to be with my kids in one place for whatever amount of time it didn’t feel like a risk in terms of my career because it just wasn’t what my priority was. It was just my children were important to me. They were little, aged from about five to eleven. It wasn’t about am I giving up work it was about my children were important to me.”

What made you decide to stop and move permanently to Idaho? “We announced our separation and my mother died. I went off to do a film after this called Passion Of Mind. The film didn’t get the best of me and my children weren’t getting the best of me. I was not in the mix. The film had been an extraordinary script and an OK film, but it wasn’t about that. I was the product of divorced parents who weren’t present for me. I realised that if I wasn’t present for them I was going to have bigger issues with them later.” She did not want to let history repeat itself. She was left alone at a young age and felt she had too much responsibility too quickly and she grew up too fast. “I didn’t want to work and drag my kids with me while they were trying to cross this huge transition. I wanted them to become as stable and as confident as possible. I’m grateful that I had the ability to do that. There are people that go through this and don’t have the financial means, but I did. It wasn’t a risk, it was the right thing to do.”

Her mother was only 54 when she died of cancer. Moore had tried to help her with her alcoholism and their relationship had become frustrated because her mother didn’t seem to want the help she needed. Moore moved the whole family to a motel in New Mexico so she could be with her in the last weeks. The fairy tale marriage with Willis was over and she had not left her career on a high note. “The bigger risk was stepping back into this world that I’d left at a point where I’d faced the harshest criticism I’d ever faced in my career. I wasn’t even sure why I wanted to come back. My children though kept asking, are you ever going to work again. Maybe they saw that they were missing that piece of me. It was a big part of who I am.” Were you missing it? “A little bit. I was very happy just being in Idaho. I also realised we can get too comfortable. A sanctuary becomes a hiding place and that’s not a benefit to anybody.”

Her comeback movie was Charlie’s Angels. Was that another risk? Appearing in a bikini alongside women a decade younger? “I didn’t worry about being with younger women and I didn’t have time to think about being in a bikini. I was asked if I could start working a month earlier than originally planned so I didn’t have time to obsess about that.” But wasn’t there a part of your life when you were obsessed with exercise, like running 20 miles a day? “Long ago when I did Striptease and GI Jane.” She pauses to peel back more layers. “It wasn’t just about the parts requiring it. I was much more driven and obsessive about physical exercise and dieting. It peaked. After GI Jane I was burnt out. I stopped work and I stopped exercising. I realised I needed to come from the inside and find a sense of peace. I had manipulated and created something but it wasn’t coming from a place that was really grounded. I realised being thin did not equal happiness.” Did you find it only fuelled your insecurities? “Of course, it’s never going to give us the confidence because that has to come from a connection that’s more spiritual. You can call it God, you can call it the Light, but it’s something greater than you. Greater than what is tangible because what is tangible is finite. I’ve stopped trying to control it.”

She found that the happier she was and the less she tried the better she felt and looked. Although the tabloids would have it another way. Some cite she paid $3 million for her new body. Does she find that a compliment? “No. It’s irritating. And it isn’t true. To fight it feels futile because I feel it perpetuates the myth. But really,” she says with mounting anger, “the culmination for me was that I had my knees done. When I read that I thought wow, should I have been worried about my knees, I didn’t realise they were so bad. There were multiple reports that I’d had them done.” Her knees are readily available besides me. She invites me tod examine them for the scar. She bends them and shows me how in certain positions the tiniest bit of fat pokes over her knee creating a wrinkle, but it’s not a scar. I put my finger across it to check. I can feel no ridge, just smooth skin. A couple of businessmen in the corner look alarmed why I would be stroking Demi Moore’s knees. But she seems to find it amusing. “It’s not just my knees. They say I’ve had multiple face surgeries. I was in getting a facial recently and there were reports that I’d been in there for countless hours saying I’d had surgical procedures. Am I going to sue? Do they want to examine my entire face and look for marks? Do I really care? Well, I have some ego and I think are they trying to say I can only look good if I bought it.”

Twenty years in the media have not hardened her to this. She composes and says, “Also I feel that this separates women. The media is trying to perpetuate something else saying you can’t have this because you can’t afford it.” She’s adamant she has had nothing done to her face. She allows me to stare at her very close. She has fine lines around her eyes. No evidence of any work. She also assures me she’s never had lypo. There is no steeliness. Here are the insecurities that created the steel. I tell her she has to take it as a compliment that people think that she looks so good.

I wonder if the focus on her looks has made her introspective. At 44 she’s too old for the bimbo role but not old enough to be the matriarch, the grand dame. Although in her next film, Flawless, which reunites her with Michael Caine 23 years after they starred in the kitschy sex farce Blame It On Rio, she plays a woman who is “Brittle. It’s a woman who’s given up on her personal life. It’s set in the Sixties where a woman striving for a career in the corporate diamond world was unheard of. It was interesting to explore her. She’s strong but not really. She’s brittle.”

It’s as if playing brittle gets rid of the brittleness in her own life. “I’d like to do something more vulnerable. People associate me with strong but that can be limiting. I suppose if I really want it I’ll have to go hunt it down myself. If you want it you have to be proactive and do the work. We hear all the complaints. There aren’t enough roles for women my age. So I think let’s figure out creative ways to find these. My goal though is to continue to grow as a human being, to find more ways in which I can be a better giver in all aspects. To be a better wife, better mother, better friend, better sister.” Do you feel more able to be loved now? “Yes, I do. I feel like I have a great gift of being with somebody who loves me and supports me. We share a connection that allows me to dig deeper within myself and look at things that I was afraid to look at.” She says this with absolute certainty, even talking about Kutcher she seems to shiver with strength and softness at the same time.

She met Kutcher when she was in New York doing a photo shoot and he was hosting Saturday Night Live. There was already quite a buzz about Kutcher. He was funny and gorgeous. successful and popular and amusing. His show Punk’d was by this time an MTV classic. He was a star of That ’70s Show and was just about to embark on a successful movie career. A group of friends went out to dinner so it didn’t feel awkward, like a set-up. At the time everyone thought she had such a good relationship with her ex-husband Bruce Willis and that they were about to get back together again. They got married by a Kabbalah rabbi in 2005. Was she looking for someone or did he take her by surprise? “I actually think I was at a point where I thought I was never going to find anybody. I don’t come with baggage I come with trunks and as the mother of three teenagers I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself but dating seems kind of silly, I thought I just don’t know how to do this.”

Yet she has learnt to deal with those trunks and unpack the bitterness and anger that makes them such a heavy load. We see happy smiling pictures of Moore, her daughters, her ex-husband, and he current husband smilingly skiing or on family days out. Kutcher never tried to be a father or replace Willis. The children call him M.O.D – My Other Dad. What’s the formula for getting on so well with her ex? “People forget that you get brought together with someone because you share a connection and that there was a depth of love and it gets buried when things go off on another path. It’s easy to forget that and stay attached to the negativity, the bad stuff, the pain. But you do have a choice. You can stay connected to what was shared and find a new form with which to share it.”

She’s done exceptionally well with her very modern family who all go on holiday together? Does she think it depends on how badly it ended on how well the relationship continues? “No. It takes too much work not to get over it. The energy it takes not to forgive is exhausting, it’s miserable. You just have to want to move on. It doesn’t mean it’s easy. There’s lots of emotions and sensitivities to deal with. But if you hold on and don’t forgive it’s destructive. In our case we placed our children as a priority. After all, each of them was created by a piece of us and I never wanted them to think what happened to us had any reflection on them. My parents used my brother and I as pawns. I was determined that that would never happen with my family. I have daughters so obviously I support a daughter’s relationship with their father because it could dictate choices that they would later make.” She gives a haunted little chuckle. “I was the parent with my parents. I took it all on.”

So many things have been written about her getting together with Ashton. The age difference. The fact that she was 15 years older than him. The fact that she was once one half of a famous celebrity couple that ruled the tabloids long before there was Bennifer, Bradgelina or Tomkat.

“On paper if somebody had said you are going to be marrying somebody who is 25 as he was then, who sees a woman who has three kids as a bonus, I would have laughed. I would never have known that this man could have existed.” Who he was was evident very early on. That first night that the big group went out to dinner. “I stepped out of the room to call my children to say goodnight. I was on he phone to them saying I love you and I miss you guys and there he was. He stood there and he looked right at me and he said, “That is the most beautiful thing I ever heard.” He paused, then closed the door. So I knew I had encountered someone really different. I just knew. There was something really different.”
Did you feel that you knew him before in another life? (As he says of her). “I felt there was a connection. I feel like I have been with him the whole of my life. That’s how it feels. I feel so so blessed. I wasn’t looking for a relationship. I asked the universe for a partner, somebody who I could really share everything with.”

When she talks about Kutcher her voice is so warm it’s almost purring. She could talk about him all the time really, and how great and solid and clever and sexy he is.

Do you want a baby with him? “We would love that. It would be just fantastic. We are doing lots of practising for that. And you can’t complain about practising with him.” She giggles a sweet girlie giggle. “I don’t know what I’ve done, what merit I’ve possibly had, that the universe could reward me by putting us together.”

I think you have a genuine happy ending. “I do, I do.” You feel happy for her. You feel happy that such love exists. In fact mesmerised.



Anjelica Huston

We meet at Shutters Hotel on the beach in Santa Monica. Lovely views of the bright blue sky and pale sand. We order lobster salad and white wine. Almost unheard of at lunchtime anywhere in California. Anjelica Huston has never been a conventional woman, one that fits in easily or accepted convention. She’s always been attracted to the dark side, the gothic, most at home playing Morticia in The Addams Family, chopping the heads off roses or being a witch or a mafia bad girl in Prizzi’s Honor for which she won her Oscar.
She’s known for having an alpha presence, yet men in her life have cast heavy shadows: her father, the macho director John Huston, for whom the term hellraiser seems too weak a cliché, and for being involved with Jack Nicholson, larger than life womaniser straight out of the same mould.
She has always had a dangerous presence, edgy. Her face has been called imposing, imperious, corvine. She herself joked it was the kind of face that was only ever seen on old coins.
Today it’s the same interesting face, although the eyes look a little surrendered. She looks well put together, blue Palazzo pants, black patent leather, Tori Burch mules, a soft white T-shirt with net inserts that reveal pale flesh, although perhaps not as vampiric as it once was.
She smells exotic, the scent she’s always worn, Patou. But there’s something that’s very much not the same and no matter how light she might try to make the conversation there is a profound sadness. Two years ago her husband of 18 years, Robert Graham, the sculptor, died. The year before that he was sick in hospital. It’s been an extremely grueling time for Huston. First of all a period of reevaluating love and what it meant, concluding that this was the man she has loved most in her life. And then losing him.
Her hair is still striking, lustrous, but not as dark as it used to be. And her mouth still looks like it was drawn on. A cartoon mouth that turns up and down at the edges as she expresses pain or joy. Intense brown eyes that are not afraid to look right through you.
She talks about death with a disconcerting familiarity. Ostensibly we are here to talk about Horrid Henry, a rather sweet 3D children’s movie where she plays the cruel teacher wearing a prosthetic nose, mouth and wrinkles.
Somehow odd to be talking about something flimsy after we go into the year she spent hoping her husband was not going to die and how it’s taken her a while to accept “widowhood”. She makes me shiver inside every time she mentions the word “widow” it comes with such pathos. It hurts every time she describes herself thus.
I mention in an attempt to be cheery that I came across an interview with Jack Nicholson, her long time love, where he referred to breaking up with her. He said ‘Anjelica annihilated me.’ Her mouth doesn’t quite turn up at the edges. She already knows what he said by heart. She says that he rather spoilt it by in the next sentence saying that he wouldn’t like to change anything, he’d just like to deal with it better.
“I think he recovered quite well. I’ve seen that quote floating around for a bit and the caveat being would you like to go back and make things work and the answer being no, I’ll let that one rest. I paraphrase.”
Interestingly she paraphrases in a slightly more negative way. He actually said, “I have made a mistake, but I don’t want to go back and correct it. I would rather deal with it.”
She says, “You can’t go back in time but you can move forward. I talk to Jack. I don’t speak on a day to day basis but we keep in touch. It’s a nice relationship, mature.”
Quite nice that you were able to annihilate. “Well particularly if they deserve to be annihilated.” A small smile. “At least he let that be known. I remember after we broke up there being a kind of photo layout of him and his new paramour in Life or People magazine with testimonies from his friends as to how he’d found the love of his life. I found that incredibly…” She’s searching for the words, and then just laughs. “There have been so many paramours since then.” She instantly changes the subject.
There’s something dismissive though in the way she speaks about him. Yes they still speak. Yes they’re still friends. It’s not so much that she’s dismissive of him but dismissive of that adrenalin fuelled passion, the intense uncertainty of their relationship where infidelity didn’t necessarily mean betrayal until Nicholson very publicly had a one-night stand that turned into a few weeks, Rebecca Broussard got pregnant, and there was no turning back.
Huston had already been trying for a baby. She remembers the photos in the lifestyle magazines of Nicholson and girlfriend and baby. It was all too public. It’s as if she’s seeing the magazine spread in front of her still.
Perhaps she can take a small delight in the fact that if she was the love of Nicholson’s life he was certainly not the love of hers. She talks about how hard it was. How she couldn’t think straight or do anything except look after her husband.
“When my husband was sick it was impossible for me to work. I dedicated my time to him and now for the first time I’m having the opportunity to look outside. Oddly nothing came to me at that time. I had very few offers. Perhaps people knew what was going on. Perhaps it was just luck that I had enough time to devote myself entirely.”
In the last year I did three movies. There was one called The Big Year with Owen Wilson and Steve Martin. I’ve got to know Steve Martin a lot more and I don’t mean in the biblical sense. I’ve been around him for many years and I never thought that he particularly liked me. But on The Big Year I suddenly saw this other side of him. Compared to the Steve Martin I’d known all those years before he was practically emollient. He was jovial, arranging dinner dates. I think it was because he’s happily married and I found him to be an inventive actor, quite clever. The Big Year is about competitive bird watching and I play a sea captain and Owen Wilson and I have an ugly past where I forced him off the boat with a knife.
“I did another movie. The title keeps changing although it’s being alluded to as a ‘cancer comedy’. It’s a movie that emphasizes the crazy things and emotions that surround a serious illness.”
So she did a movie dealing with serious illness and death just after she’d experienced it. That was harsh. “Life is harsh. My life has always reflected my work. My life, my work. I don’t know which comes first. I don’t know if that’s just what I’m sympathetic to or it’s fate.”
The waiter seems over attentive, very keen to listen in. she says she doesn’t know why she chose this restaurant. It’s always been unlucky for her. Once she fell over, slipped on the floor by the bar, was on the ground and nobody came to help her.
She grew up in Galway, Ireland, in the guest house of a big rambling house called St. Cleran’s Manor House. Her father loved Ireland. He loved hunting. He loved the freedom. He hated McCarthyism, control. She too has adopted Ireland. It’s in her heart. She was very moved by the Queen. “How fabulous was the Queen’s speech,” she says with pride.
Her father got rid of the house when her mother died and his new wife didn’t like it. Something that also causes an ache.
Has she been back to Ireland much? “I’ve been back a couple of times since Bob died and that’s been good for me. I’ve been back to the house. It’s in a bad state. It was a hotel. Merv Griffin of all people bought it. It had a sushi restaurant in it. It was a very strange experience when I went back there. it was like being Alice down a rabbit hole. If you could imagine going from a home with very functional rooms to everything being displaced, every door I opened went into a room or bathroom and some of it not so beautiful. They chopped a lot of the woods down and you could see big mansions to the right and left uninhabited and some half finished. I guess that had been the Germans that were visiting. The cook and the housekeeper sweetly offered me cup cakes and some booklets of St Cleran’s Manor House when it belonged to Merv Griffin. You want to see the place functioning and the fire burning.”
Perhaps she should buy it? “Ha. I’d have to be in a very different place. Those places cost so much to keep. If there were any rich Irishmen who wanted to marry me that could go together quite easily. Even if they were gay that could be arranged.”
The food arrives and she smiles at the waiter. This time he leaves. She talks about the director of Horrid Henry. “He’s such a nice man. He came all the way to California and asked me to play Miss Battleaxe. When I saw her she had purple hair and a pointy nose, so I asked for prosthetics and he said no, no, no one’s going to be using prosthetics and I said I don’t know how to go about this part unless you let me have a little pointy nose and a little pointy chin. They didn’t stick on very well but I thought it was integral to her character that she be pointy. I got fixated with this one nature programme that they have on the BBC where a couple set a trap in the shore lands of Cornwall and they caught a common shrew and he had a very long nose, a plaintive look but a hateful shrewish little face, so I thought I’ve found my template.”
She demonstrates the look. “Exactly like Miss Battleaxe.” Conspiratorially she says, “She gets kindlier. She redeems herself in the end.”
Sometimes her voice is like a cat’s purr. A cat who’s been sipping cognac and had a few cigarettes, warm and crackly. It wasn’t her worse experience with prosthetics. It took only a few hours to get on and off. “Witches took five hours to get on and three hours to get off. At the end of the day you wanted to tear it off but you had to do it piece by piece.”
Was she worried at the way she would look as Miss Battleaxe or in Witches. “No, I knew what I was letting myself in for. I don’t have a problem with that. It’s a kids movie. You’re not looking for subtlety. And I have less and less vanity.
“I don’t like looking bad accidentally. But if it’s my choice to play a hideous looking witch I should be able to do that. But that’s not to say if I see a horrible looking picture of myself I won’t cringe ‘How could this happen?'”
I remember she told me she tried botox once and her husband told her a sad story and she couldn’t react to it so he got upset. She laughs at the thought of it completely impassive to his tragedy. I’m wondering does she really find it still funny or perhaps it’s too sad. Her face doesn’t betray.
“That was the last time I did botox, but one of the oddest things about my present moment is that right now there is no one in my life to tell me what I shouldn’t do so I find myself relying on what people have told me in the past. I don’t know if I should rush out and do all the things that were forbidden. I’ve seen some really good looking women in their sixties with not a line on their face and it’s a different kind of look, a certain amount of not so haggardness, smoothness. I looked very tired after that year and a half is what I’m trying to say. (When she was looking after her dying husband). I don’t know that a little lifting, a little botox, is such a horrible idea this year as it was last. I don’t feel adamant about it any more.”
Isn’t botox quite detrimental to acting as it promotes expressionlessness?” “That’s true and that’s a reason for not doing it. But a few of my friends have had little lifts here and there. I wonder if I go in and have a face lift that in the next few weeks they’ll have an innovation. I just don’t like the idea of pain. It’s not much of a priority in my life.”
Is there another man in her life? She shakes her head looking more relaxed, less savaged by grief. She perks up. “It’s strange I’ve never had a period in my life since I was 15 that I didn’t have a boyfriend or several. It’s taking some getting used to. There are some moments where yes, I have been lonely. You come home after a night out and you go, what’s missing? Oh yes, there’s no one to talk to about it. So you certainly feel that emptiness, but at the same time I don’t feel compelled to fill that space. The first thing I did when Bob died was I couldn’t stop digging holes. I made a garden behind my house feverishly. I went up to my ranch and planted trees. I think that was a healthy thing for me. But I haven’t met anybody that I would want to be with in that sense.”
Maybe it’s too early. “Maybe. I don’t think I’m putting out the signals. I don’t care really. I’m still living in a house I shared with my husband. I can’t imagine establishing a life with somebody in that house.”
Is she comfortable living in that house? “Not only comfortable. I think it’s beautiful. There is a studio that he built that he was going to work in for ever and ever. It’s a very big property. Venice is where I moved for Bob. Venice has been good for me, character building. If it hadn’t been for Venice I’d be behind some gate on Mulholland Drive. I’d be a recluse and afraid of mixing with the public. Venice takes the starch out of you. There’s a very immediate sense of living that you have down here. Positive character building but not altogether easy. When I first came I was jumpy because I was overly recognised and I thought that would infringe on my freedom or my security. And that’s what happened to a lot of celebrities. The next thing you know you are a prisoner. It’s pretty easy to stay behind your gates and stay away from the rest of humanity. Much better to deal with being alive.
There is a sense of sadness when she says that, as if something without Graham is not alive. She’d always been attracted to bad boys and risk takers and taking risks. All of that shifted when she married Graham.
She was 39 and felt “as you go through life people reflect what you need. “Great love affairs don’t necessarily make great marriages or even great friendship. Robert, he was kind to me. I got married because I finally met someone who told me what they were going to do and did it. He was single-minded in his pursuit of me and a genius in his own right.”
All her life previous to this she had been the pursuer. “Pursuing is not a happy place,” she shudders. The pursuing seems lifetimes ago, but still too close.
I remember when I met her before we ended up crying. She had said that losing Jack was “like experiencing a death in the family. It was terrible abandonment and loneliness. He symbolised a whole life for me. He was my family.”
Thinking about it now, their relationship was very fractured at the time. The fact that he was family was perhaps a projection. Now she has lost her actual family, her husband. She’s very aware that her father was the first imprint, a vibrant character who was cruel to actors when he directed them to test them, and was scant with his praise. She would have to make do with a wink or a nod. When he first directed her in A Walk With Love And Death it was a harsh experience. Yet when she won his love it was worth winning.
It seems that all her life, until Graham, she had to pursue, win over, challenge. With Graham the love was just there. Does she feel his presence? “I had one thing happened shortly after he died. I have a shrine to him and I asked him a question and it was answered immediately in a way I can’t be specific about. I have a sense of him everywhere. That he could just walk through the door and I won’t be particularly surprised. And then there’s the knowledge that he’s not going to.
I’ve been following a poet, a Mexican poet whose son was killed by the cartels. He said the effect of the death is so profound that he’s never going to write poetry again. ” She said it as if she has complete empathy.
” He talks about God and the afterlife and the questions that only get answered when we die. …. So I don’t think I’ll know until then. It’s already an act of faith that people think they will know at that moment.”
Her voice is soft, a profound sadness radiates.
Is she religious? “Sometimes. I’m mostly pragmatic. I search less because I know the answer is more remote. It’s like when you chase something it runs away more. If you chase a horse you never catch it. One has to have a lot of energy for those things.
“In terms of spirituality what you put out there is what you attract. The object is to get yourself to a place where you can be receptive, where you can be kind, where you don’t have to be defensive, where you can be at ease in your own skin.”
The dessert menu comes. We decide to share a chocolate tart. “If you’re going to have dessert why go for the fruit.” Good to see she’s all or nothing.
“I have just got a TV series (Smash). For the next half a year at least I’ll be in New York. If I’m going to spend half of what’s left of my life in New York I may as well enjoy it.” It’s a series about Broadway with Jack Davenport and Debra Messing and Katharine McPhee, an American Idol contestant. “A sweet thing. It’s very well written. I’ll put my dogs in cages and just go. I wish I could do the same with my horses. I have two dogs now Mecha, who’s a hairless Mexican dog but she has hair, and another one I think she’s a lhasa apso. I’m taking them on a boat at the weekend to Catalina island. We in California never go to Catalina island. In the olden Los Angeles days people used to make that trip to go to a ballroom, to gamble and drink too much.”
I think it was a boat off Catalina island that Natalie Wood fell overboard and drowned. “I am determined to gather my rosebuds, especially if I’m going to be in New York. I want to make the most of California.”
She says that since she wanted to fill up space with doing lots of movies that’s when offers came in. “You say it’s weird but if your life always works that way it doesn’t seem weird. The question is do you choose the work or does it choose you?
“Sometimes we attract things that are darker. Sometimes we chase rainbows because we think they are going to transform our lives. So many girls go after guys because they think it’s going to transform them. It doesn’t make life easier. Perhaps it makes life harder. Perhaps it just makes you be able to feel. Or perhaps you feel you’re going to go after some other people and see how that feels.”
Did she do that? “Yes. Absolutely. As soon as I got as I wanted I was like, is that all there is?” These days she says she’s not in pursuit of anyone. “Just my friendships and my affections with my animals and with people who are already on my side. Another very strange that happened in widowhood which I never expected is that people can react very negatively to you and be very nasty. That somehow you haven’t done enough. Or they’re owed something. I think that happens all the time around death. There’s an expectation perhaps of money or inheritance. You think people are going to wonderful and comforting and empathic, but they’re fucking greedy. That’s all I have to say about it. So you get a nice dose of human nature and it can take the sterm and drum out of you. In a way whatever can get you through this, even if it’s anger at a person or two for you to plight your sorrow, it will get you through it. It will get you through the pain because the pain is something that gnaws away at you and it’s like an affliction. Whereas at least with anger you can strike it out and get it out of you. That no suffering pain is very difficult. So in a way finding myself in a position where I had to be self-protective was good.”
She takes a fork full of salty caramel chocolate tart. “People don’t want you to be needy. They want nothing to do with a needy person. They want you as strong as an ox. People who have known you strong don’t like to see you needy. Eventually you get a little hardened. It’s not an easy time for women right now. Men have never been more shrill or more feminine. I’ve never known so many gay people. perhaps it’s the opposition. Everyone wants to settle in with people who are more like them.”
Does she? “Do I want to be a lesbian? No. I think when you undergo the loss of a mate sex is the least of it. It seems trivial. I look around right now if I’m in a restaurant or waiting for someone or on the street. I look at men and I think, how old are you? What kind of man would want a woman my age? Would it be a man with salt and pepper hair and a pinstripe suit? Who would it be? Would it be some sort of artistic type that would want to have a shag on the beach? Would it be Rupert Murdoch or Warren Buffet or Donald Trump? Is there a template for the perfect man now? At one point it was Brad Pitt wasn’t it. But who would it be now? I suppose Jack was a universal template.” A pause. A smile. She had Jack the universal template. “I don’t know where the template is now.”
We discuss that everyone’s template is perhaps based on some kind of psychological father figure. Her father was a womaniser who lived only in the pursuit of passion in that moment. He never thought of consequences. No surprise then that Nicholson and her father loved each other.
“I read another book about my father. Every time I read about him he’s making love to more women. This man has a more active love life than I do and he’s been dead 20 years. And then I read about my poor mother waiting around for him and tolerating his stuff. That’s not something I’d be tempted to do now.”
Has she ever done that? “I think I was doomed to replicate that kind of thing. But now, no. My type was, he’s out the door, he must be good. A gorgeous deep-voiced flatterer. The bad dad. I understand now that you don’t have to jump into anything. There’s a certain period of widowhood grace. I completely understand the way you would wear black clothing for a few years, to keep you away from the world. And that’s not unhealthy. You need it. When you’ve been administering to someone who’s incredibly sick, trying to be everything to their nothing, you pour so much of yourself out, you are vulnerable, you are shaky after that. You need a period to rebuild.
“There is this constant reminder that we are alone and there’s no mistaking that. It’s not really a deception. Once in a while you will leave yourself to be part of a couple. You stop making decisions on your own and for yourself. As part of a couple – I’ve been in that position where someone has said, what are you doing this summer? And I say I’m going to do this and that. And I get that sidelong look from my partner who’s like, what about we? You’re going to do what? What about us? And I think it’s not about us, it’s about me.”
In her relationship with Graham she never felt dominated. She was able to be her own person and be with someone else. She wouldn’t know how to do a relationship as one half of a couple. “My relationships haven’t lasted as long as myself, so as a single entity I’m going to own it. Going to New York scares me, but I’m going with it. Where I’m going to be, who am I going to be with, who I’m not going to be with – I don’t even have a child to make those decisions around. It’s all about me now.”
She talks about her horses that are upstate on her ranch. She is sad they won’t be going to New York. “They are extremely intuitive. They can tell by the feel of you if you are tentative on their back.” She talks about CeCe a big strong piebald mare with a big head, the horse that had been given to her by her father’s last wife.
“I’ve got to my ranch and said I’m going to ride all my horses today. I started with the ones I knew best and saved her to the end. I got on top of her and within seconds I was sailing back to the ground on a cloud of dust. I looked at her immense buttocks. She was an incredible animal and I was like a spider scurrying away from her and then I thought I really don’t need to kill myself this way. I used to take risks all the time to really really risk, but now I don’t stand up on the back of motorways going 80mph on an Italian autoroute. I was an athlete and a daredevil, I always took emotional risks, I always put myself in at the deep end.” Has she stopped? “I’d think twice before I took big risks now whereas I never used to think that way.” Does she regret any of those risks? “Not at all. Some were fun and some a bit hurtful. I got over it a lot of love poems later.”
She talks about the shift in her and the shift of her whole family to the east coast. Danny will be going east working on some projects and nephew Jack is in Boardwalk Empire. He used to go out with Cat Deeley. “I think they were both too big for the relationship. They both wanted big careers as well.”
Briefly there’s a look of nostalgia. You see her or you feel her reminiscing about big relationships with big characters, tumultuous ones. Now those love poems? “Thrown away or in the trash.”
Now and again you get a glimpse of a naughty look, a sense of adventure. She may not be wanting to ride the big bucking horse but gradually she’ll work out a new ride.

Dominic West

Even my lesbian friends think Dominic West is hot. Maybe it’s because there is something about him that is so purely, ridiculously Male, charming yet flawed. They love him in ‘The Affair,’ the series for which he was Golden Globe nominated. 

He plays Noah Solomon, a teacher and failing novelist. His wife is hugely rich and his father-in-law a hugely successful writer. Classic. He’s undermined, therefore available. The series is dark and gripping, told in separate episodes from the man’s point of view and then the woman’s. There’s lots of sex in it and it’s quite odd to be going to meet somebody who you’ve last seen on screen in just their boxers. 

I’m going to meet him at his house in Shepherd’s Bush, London. When I arrive only his wife and youngest daughter are in. He hasn’t told her about the interview. She gets on with making her daughter breakfast, unphased by the stranger in her kitchen. Catherine Fitzgerald seems unflappable, capable. It’s not long before he arrives and he’s instantly attentive and makes me coffee. A very good cup of coffee. He did it nonchalantly, like he didn’t care about making me the best cup of coffee, but he did it anyway. 

He’s just come back from the school run dropping off his three children. Only the 2 year old, Christabel is on her mother’s hip.

You can’t see where the charm ends and the bad boy begins or perhaps he is just very good at playing bad boys or at least men who are flawed.

His wife Catherine you can tell instantly suffers no fools. She’s busy getting things done, looking after 4 children and running her landscape gardening business.  Their garden is beautiful, it manages to look wild yet perfectly manicured, a riot of happy colours and an oasis of calm. 

I’m not sure why actors invite journalists into their homes. It seems to be asking for trouble. Who doesn’t want to know what their bathroom’s like, what books they read, if they’re tidy or chaotic. We’re in the garden because the garden is remarkable. The house inside looks like a busy family home, a big wooden table in the kitchen, it’s lived in, not self-conscious. It’s his work that’s been extraordinary. 

His Richard Burton in Burton and Taylor was magnetic, as the alcoholic Detective Jimmy McNulty in ‘The Wire’ he was sensational. In his latest film the animated ‘Finding Dory,’ he’s reunited with his Wire colleague Idris Elba. They play lazy, bad boy sea lions with English accents, their scenes together are the funniest in the movie. How lovely to see British humour in the midst of PC-PG Disney. 

‘Finding Dory,’ the sequel to Finding Nemo. Dory, played by Ellen DeGeneres, is the fish with short term memory loss. “Anyone who’s got kids must have watched ‘Finding Nemo’ 50 times. Idris Elba and I played two British sea lions who like to sit on a rock and carp on about things. We live in Ocean World, somewhere in the West Coast of America, we get fed sprats every day. It was great being fed Sprats and being with Idris. We had very few scenes together in ‘The Wire,’ he was my antagonist, so it was only in his last season that I was observing him, surveilling him that we got to hang out. It was very nice we got to reunite.” he says smiling and for a minute looking like his smug, lazy sea lion character. 

He’s looking very whiskery today. A dark beard seems to scribble out his distinctive features. I feel it’s even etched out his trademark wicked grin.

He’s often summoned to play really dark characters,  he was Fred West in ‘Appropriate Adult’. Even the real Fred West’s daughter thought the likeness was uncanny and he captured a spirit of evil. His wife was revolted by it. His sisters freaked out that people would think they were related to Fred West because they shared the same surname.  More recently he was super creepy Walt Camby, the greedy gazillionaire banker in ‘Money Monster’ with George Clooney and Julia Roberts. How is it that he does evil so well? 

“Errrr don’t know, just got an evil face” he smiles sweetly. He’s charming, that’s for sure, but he’s not in the least bit flirty. I thought he loved all women and flirted with all of them. I blame the beard. It’s an instant barrier. In a recent interview he said, “I think women should be more indulgent of affairs, I really do. It’s daft to kick someone out over a fling. Isn’t it? Everyone should turn a blind eye to men’s behaviour between the ages of 40 and 50. Let it all blow over.” 

He doesn’t want to elaborate on that today. He look a little embarrassed. Maybe because we’re in the family home. Maybe that’s why we’re here. So he can guard his own mouth. The Dominic West who shouts his mouth off and says the first thing that comes into his head is not around today. 

He was born 46 years ago in Sheffield, the sixth of seven children. His Irish father owned a plastics factory that did rather well. Being the sixth of seven perhaps made him feel anonymous, like he had to try harder to be centre stage, perhaps that’s why he became an actor. He has four children with Catherine, Dora, nine and Christabelle two and sons, Senan, seven, Francis, six and a daughter, Martha, who’s now 17, from a previous relationship with the aristocrat Polly Astor (granddaughter of Nancy).

He’s got five sisters and he thinks that this knowledge and being surrounded by so many females makes him somewhat of a feminist.

Much has been made of the fact that he went to Eton. He’s a couple of years older than Damien Lewis, you begin to wonder if Eton had a really great Drama department. Did he feel that he was a bit of an outsider as everyone else was so posh? 

“No, it wasn’t like that at all, it’s such a big school. And a great school actually. It helps you find what you’re good at and once you’ve found it, life becomes easier and I found acting almost immediately. Damien Lewis was a few years below me, so I didn’t know him at school, he was a very good footballer, I wasn’t but I was quite good at Rugby and when I was cast as Hamlet aged 16 the director said I had to choose between the two, no more Rugby.”

Was that because he didn’t want Hamlet on crutches? “Yes, and also the training took rehearsal time.” He wasn’t homesick at all? ” Yes, very much so for the first year but acting saved me, I became known for it and respected for it.”

Accepted or respected? “Respected. Maybe this is with rose tinted hindsight, it’s not a bullying school or a particularly tough school, it’s a place that respects people’s differences. I would want my kids to go to a school where their passions were brought out.”

Will he send his boys there? “We haven’t decided, they are only 6 and 7. My inclination is I don’t want them to leave home, I want to keep them here as much as possible.”

He really loves being at home, he loves hanging out with his children and being in the lovely garden his wife created.  You can tell he’s the sort of man that likes a solid base. It allows him to be flighty when he needs it. He met his wife at Trinity College, Dublin, they were together until he went to drama school and then it ended. 

Was it a painful break up? “No, it was geographical, it was just that I was moving away. We always kept in touch, then we found we were both living in London and things had moved on… Meaning that I wasn’t with the mother of my daughter anymore and she wasn’t with her husband. So we hooked up.” 

He makes it sound very practical but I ask him getting back with the woman he was together with at college is very romantic? “Yes” he says not wanting to be drawn in. They got married in 2010, in Ireland in the grounds of her family estate. He wore a shamrock coloured waistcoat and their children were baptised the next day. The family castle Glin Castle in West Limerick has been in the Fitzgerald’s family for 700 years.  It was recently sold for £4.6 million, which must have brought a great deal of family sadness. Catherine is the daughter of the 29th and last Knight of Glin. Desmond Fitzgerald died in 2011 with no male heir. Glin Castle hosted Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful back in the day. Catherine said at the time that they couldn’t afford the upkeep of such a place. Shorty before her father’s death he said, “It is my greatest hope that Glin will remain in the family and be enjoyed and cherished long into the future. 

And it seems sad that that’s now not the case but all he will say is that he can’t talk about his wife’s family.

He grew up catholic, is he still catholic? “Culturally more than anything else we were brought up going to mass every week. I don’t do that anymore but I enjoy the liturgy, the music, the culture.” He enjoyed a period of closeness with his father when his parents separated and he moved back to Ireland. “My parents had seven children and were married for 26 years and when they split up it turned out to be a great opportunity for me to spend the last 10 years of my father’s life getting to know him very well. I became very close with him. We still have his house, a little bungalow in Ireland that he lived in there. He left that to all of us to enjoy and we go there often. It’s a bungalow by the sea.” Do you go there to check in with your Irish heritage? “No, it’s just that it’s a really nice spot.”

There’s quite a few pauses where you feel him reeling himself in. He’s wary with the interview process because he’s been lured into talking too much and then regretting it. Indeed, when I first met him at a jazz evening at the Caprice a few years ago, he spent a whole evening talking about how he had been filleted like a kipper by an interviewer. He felt that he’d been trapped and he’d had sleepless nights worrying about it. Not that he cared about being a target but he cared very much about the other people who were embroiled. There’s no doubt there’s been pain and passion shared in his life, he couldn’t be such a precise actor, drawn to characters known for their complexity. 

For me his portrayal of Richard Burton was thrilling, so flawed, so vulnerable, so nasty, so amazing, “He was a hero of mine from an early age. I read Melvin Bragg’s book ‘Rich’. It’s not an objective book it’s a paean. He was obviously deeply in love with Burton, who was a rather tragic man but a wonderful actor. When it was first suggested that I might be playing him it was daunting for me because I loved him so much. There are probably only two or three people in the world that could play Liz Taylor and Helena Bonham-Carter was probably the best of them. I didn’t know her before we met on set, she was so completely possessed by the character, I was never quite sure where Elizabeth ended and Helena began! Until afterwards and we became good friends.” 

In the past he said it was he who initiated the break up with the mother of his eldest daughter (Polly Astor), because he just wasn’t ready to settle down .Whatever other complexities surround the issue is not what he wants to talk about. He is very proud of Martha his daughter, now 17. When she was young she played Paul Bettany’s daughter in ‘Creation,’ but he’s even prouder of the fact that now she’s taking her studies seriously. 

Soon, he’ll be going to upstate New York for another series of ‘The Affair’. For someone who loves his home so much, he certainly spends a long time away from it. He corrects me . ”It’s the most important factor in my decision about work, I don’t spend a lot of time away from home. This year I’ll do ‘The Affair’ and my family will come out for the summer and Autumn half-term and then I’ll be at home for the rest of the year. It’s all very carefully thought out because they are at an age now where I don’t want to miss any of it. It’s the most important thing in my life at the moment.”

It’s interesting to me that his work schedule is so carefully choreographed as he doesn’t want to be away from his family. Probably because we think of him as being like the shiftier characters he likes to play. ‘The Affair’ is the kind of show people get really obsessed with and love to binge watch. I heard recently that his wife had never even watched it. Is that because she didn’t want to see him naked and shagging? “No not at all. She just hasn’t got time. She’s so extremely busy. She runs a very successful career and four kids. She’s involved in a 9-year project to redo the gardens at Hillsborough Castle in Ireland, it’s a massive job and the plan is to attract 50,000 visitors a year. She really IS amazing.”

Catherine has been wafting in and out, getting things done, managing to look beautiful with not even a hint of make up or a hairbrush. She has now managed to catch an episode. It was on a plane and her attitude to all the sex is it’s just his job. “And that’s my attitude too. If you’ve got 30 people standing around sticking microphones in your face, it’s not an erotic experience at all.”

He pulls a face and goes on to tell me how much he doesn’t like being on top. “If you’re on the bottom you don’t have to take your clothes off.” He doesn’t think  should take their clothes off for sex scenes either no matter how it’s sold to them about the part requiring it. “Of course there are circumstance where that is the case. But often it’s just not true and that’s why from the age of 45-50 is difficult for women, Hollywood is no longer interested.”

You see he is a feminist. Of course that’s not true for 46 year-old males!

A few years ago he walked to the South Pole with Walking Wounded Soldiers. “There was a blind guy, a Scottish soldier with no legs, a couple of American women soldiers with only one leg. The great thing is if you are with walking wounded, you can’t complain, it spurred me on to see them.”

Prince Harry went on the same expedition. He has described Prince Harry as hilarious, his still for making lavatories and when his team arrived at the Pole he drank champagne from a prosthetic leg.  “Very few people get to go there and that’s why I went. It’s a vast frozen ocean, there’s nothing there, not even bacteria. Every footprint, every time you go to the loo, it’s there forever.”

It does seem to be a pretty diverse team? “I think it was for TV profile that they had me, but they had Prince Harry so they didn’t need me and in the end I wasn’t really used at all but it was a way of getting publicity for a charity that aims to get work for ex-servicemen, particularly wounded ones. I’m also doing a walk across the Western Front. My grandfather was blown up there in 1916, not many people my age are close to the first world war. My brother sent a picture of him dressed in rabbit furs aged about 20 and somehow that was really affecting for me. Lads of 19 and 20 being so cold and hungry that their infantry uniform was supplemented by rabbit furs.” He’s doing the walk for the same charity and our moment of sadness is punctuated by his little girl now gurgling and laughing. 

“What amazes me is how my parents managed with 7 of us. My mum always said once you have three they look after themselves, which I’m yet to witness because at the moment they are all just trying to kill each other. I’m amazed at what my parents managed. They gave us a very, very happy childhood and I’m hoping to do that with mine as well. “

I had expected West to be a whole lot darker.  Who knew that he was hiding such sweetness?  Domestic is that last thing I would have imagined him as.  Before I leave I watch him playing with his daughter, who stopped crying at last in her father’s arms. I hadn’t expected to be ‘Finding Daddy’. That just adds to his allure.  Dominic West, charming man, bad boy, good dad.

Kirk and Anne Douglas (Sunday Times Magazine, December 11, 2016)

Kirk and Anne Douglas and Chrissy Iley
Kirk and Anne Douglas and Chrissy Iley

When I first arrived at the house I thought this house is too small, too nondescript, too unshowy.  It can’t be the house where The Spartacuses live.

Then I spot the mezuzah on the door – Kirk Douglas is a dedicated Jew and then a nurse with gently slippered feet lets me in.  I knew I was in the right place.  The Douglases are old and need full time care.

The house feels alive when you get in. Cosy but with exquisite art, like the Picasso vase at the entrance bought by Anne Douglas when she worked for the Cannes film festival so so many years ago.

Anne is fully made up, fully coiffed in a blue long sleeved T shirt and navy slacks. Her feet in orthopaedic velcroed shoes. Kirk comes in on his walker. He looks fragile of course, who wouldn’t? He’s a hundred. Or will be on December 9th.  But as he stares out at me, his glinty eyes still look to charm.  There’s something fierce about him still. He has white hair but he has hair. He speaks with a mighty slur – a remnant of a stroke in 1996. It’s difficult to get used to understanding it but not impossible. He was pretty depressed about being rendered speechless. Not much an actor can do without speech unless silent movies are making a comeback he would joke. Except it wasn’t a joke. He contemplated suicide but knew it was too selfish an act and Kirk Douglas, born Issur Danielovich, is a survivor. He knows how to pick himself up. He is the last living legend, the last screen hero of the golden years. The action hero that started it all. He was a Viking and he was Spartacus. He did his own stunts and had a personal trainer well into his nineties and all this is in him still. He’s learnt to communicate in a different way.  He looks at me with a frisking my soul kind of look.  “I bet you’ve never interviewed a hundred year old before,” he challenges.

At the start of our meeting he looks to Anne for support, but then he seems feel who I am with his eyes. If I don’t understand the words he’s saying, he’ll intuit it and communicate by sheer telepathy. It’s hard to explain this.  I got a full and absolute sense of the man because he didn’t try to hide everything. Or if he did try to avoid questions like how many lovers did his wife not know about? He’ll shrug and just laugh and jokes, ‘I don’t understand the question.’ He tells me how glad he is to see me, a little bit of London in LA. “I haven’t been able to travel to London for the last four or five years. I have been…” and he tries to finish the sentence and just shrugs. ‘I’ve been here.’

Is he thinking about his hundredth birthday plans? “Well I found out when you reach a hundred they forget about you. I think a hundred is a very lonely age because all my friends are gone, all the one from the movies.”  Maybe he has new friends I say cheerily, because who couldn’t be sad that Burt Lancaster and Lana Turner and Lauren Bacall didn’t make it to celebrate with him. He’s not suddenly thinking about death. He’s always thought about death. He says, “If you’re Marilyn, you will always be remembered as 36 but if you’re old….I don’t know. I think he will always be remembered for his bare chested bravery, for his virility, for his rogueish handsomeness.

Surely he must have some friends coming to the party? “I have my wife. She is equated to about five friends.” He looks at Anne and Anne raises her eyebrows. He can still joke. The jokes are all based on mocking himself.

He was born in 1916, the only boy with five sisters. His mother told him he was born in a golden box delivered by angels and for many years he believed that – he must have always felt he was special? He shrugs. “Yes. I had six sisters and only one of them now lives. I was brought up more by my mother because my father was busy drinking in the saloons.” His father Herschel was a ragman, which means he had a cart that pulled rags door to door, bought and sold in the poor neighbourhood of Amsterdam, New York.  His parents had emigrated from Russia. They were illiterate and they were Jews. There wasn’t great opportunities for them in this time of great prejudice.  The ragman sold his rags and spent his money in the bars.  He was a big strong man who knew peasant ways, like how to insulate the house for winter with horse dung but not how to be an emotional communicator. He was distant and discouraging even though the young Issur/Kirk wanted to please him, he rarely did. He admired him because he was his father, yet he was absent both physically and emotionally.

How did that affect Kirk as a father to his four sons Joel, Michael, Peter, Eric? He nods sagely. “Of course a hundred years and I think about my father a lot and I realise that my best friends were always women, maybe because my mother was wonderful.” By this I interpret he wanted to be a very different father to the one he endured. “We were poor. We were living in a terrible house. We had nearly nothing and if my mother saw a hobo they would come to the house, knock on the door and while we didn’t have much food, my mother always saved something for them so yes, I was closer to my mother. I called my company Bryna after my mother.” And because of her he always found it easier to become closer to women? In touch with his feminine side? “Yes,” he beams. Even now, slumped in his chair, he’s tough. The least likely man to be in touch with his feminine side, yet somehow he is.  “My mother couldn’t speak English when she first came from Russia.  I remember taking her to New York City in a big limousine for a premiere. I said Ma, you see, America is a wonderful land.”  Did it make her happy to be in the limo with you? He says, “She never expressed it but I know she was.” Neither of his parents were good at expressing love, were they? “Well, it was so difficult to live.”

For many years Kirk blamed himself for his youngest son Eric’s lonely death from a drugs overdose at 45.  Eric was always the crazy one. Even as a child he had anger issues. He was a talented actor and in later years a stand-up comedian. I saw his act at the Edinburgh festival. It was based on jokes about his father and his more famous brother Michael. Kirk for years agonised over it and wondered if it was because he wasn’t there enough or because he thought he was too big an act to follow.  Eric had been addicted to drugs and his parents had paid for many rehabs and sober buddies. They tried to get him involved in forming a facility to help others. Eric was too far gone for that.

I remember interviewing him after his show in Edinburgh attended by about 25 people. Glad of the attention he followed me back to my hotel and shouted outside the window all night for me to come out. I didn’t. A year later he was dead.  Eric Douglas was 46 when he was found in his New York apartment dead for an overdose.  He had gone into rehab a month before with renewed efforts at sobriety

Kirk and Anne used to visit his grave twice a week. They did that for as long as they could easily walk.

Anne who is strong and clever and self-controlled was inconsolable.  So many other dramatic events informed her life.

She was born in Germany around 1930. She doesn’t give her exact age. As a little girl she was extremely close to her father. “My parents were not too great together. My mother was a beautiful women and we always had a governess.  My mother was away a lot.  She got the best dresses, the best cars. We had a big silk manufacturing place and my father had a sales lady there that he wanted me to become friends with, so we formed a close friendship. My parents divorced. I had an extremely close relationship with my father. We told each other everything. At night before I went to bed I would write to him in a little blue book and he would write the reply. One day he said, ‘I’m going on a short business trip.’ I trusted him and relied on him. When he came back I ran downstairs to meet him and he was with my friend the sales agent and he said ‘This is your new mother.’ I cried my eyes out. He betrayed me. I started work very young and went to live in Berlin where my mother was. She continued her deluxe life and I had a little divan in her dressing room and got a job in a doctor’s office.”  Then she went to work in Belgium and ended up in Paris Hitler had invaded.

“I was working by putting German subtitles on French movies because I spoke three languages. It was very tedious. It looked like I was writing in code and my maid gave my translation sheet to the Nazis so at 5am they picked me up and arrested me. It was difficult to explain to them what I was doing but eventually they let me go.” She must have been terrified. “That was an understatement. I was brought up during the regime of a dictator and a persecutor and now I feel that years later in America, Donald Trump is a dictator and it scares me. People should have lived in Germany where they thought that Hitler was OK. They said, oh he wasn’t too bad.  They thought he wasn’t really doing what he was doing. People thought that Hitler was a buffoon and people should realise that Donald Trump is a dictator! It scares me. She speaks with certainty and passion. At whatever age she is, you can tell she was never anybody’s fool.  The couple look at each other throughout, checking.

“I worked in the film industry when the war was over and I was sent everywhere because of my language skills.  I was asked to do public relations for American films that were being made in Paris.” Kirk chimes, “And that’s where I come into the story.”  Kirk grins and his eyes flash. It’s almost as if they’re flirting with each other.  Anne continues, “I was asked by a director to work on An Act of Love but I told him no because I had just finished working on Moulin Rouge and had been invited to take the leading lady to Hollywood.”  When she came back they still wanted her to work on the movie – a Kirk Douglas movie. “I went to the studio and a friend of mine who was working on set said, ‘I will take you into the lion’s den.’ And that was it.” I look at Kirk. So…he was the lion? He smiles rather sweetly, not even nostalgically because he still thinks he is a lion.

Was Anne a little wary of the lion? She chuckles. “Not at all. He asked me if could do some secretarial work for him and I said no but I’ll find somebody for you.”

Kirk adds, “This beautiful girl was in the lion’s den. I tried to get her to work for me and I was amazed when she said NO. I escorted her to her car and asked her to have dinner with me at Tour d’Argent   the fanciest restaurant in Paris and she said she was going home to make scrambled eggs.” Kirk was obsessed with what he couldn’t have? “Yes.” This wasn’t part of Anne’s massive game play. She just was too sensible, too vulnerable to throw herself in the ring with what was then the world’s biggest movie star. But scrambled eggs I ask her? “Sure. I was exhausted. I’d just come back from LA to Paris and in those days it was propeller planes. You stopped everywhere. It took two days so I said no thank you I have to go to bed.” This must have made her incredibly exciting to this lion here. “Yes,” says Kirk very definitely. But hang on, Kirk, wasn’t he engaged to another women called Pier Angeli? “Well, yes.” And wasn’t she about twelve and he had to take her on dates with her mother? “No. you are exaggerating. She was 18 when we met. 21 when we were engaged.

Meanwhile Angeli was touring the world, with or without her mother and being extremely elusive and Anne was in Paris, as was Kirk. Eventually they went on a date at the circus, a very famous circus I’m assured. Kirk said, “I was surprised when she said yes.” Anne finishes the story. “Everybody was dressed up and it was very elegant and then he appeared on the show with a pooper scooper for the elephant in a tuxedo.” Kirk beams with recollection of the perfect night. “Everybody thought I was very funny but I made her laugh and then we became good friends that night.” How good friends? “Well…” he gestures and for a minute I think is he hamming it up. Anne corrects. “We kissed that night and that was a little more than a friendly kiss and that’s how it started and every so often when we got in the most passionate way he reminded me that he really was engaged to Pier. It was a secret engagement. It hadn’t been announced. I worked on the movie in France and then I was hired for his next picture in Italy called Ulysses, produced by Carlo Ponti.”

He tells me that every night they were filming he would drive up to see Anne. But what about his fiancée? He talks about a day where he and Anne had a boat and they went on a romantic little pleasure trip up the coast, where they thought they were hidden in a private harbour, but somehow Pier found out. “I could never find her when I wanted to but she always knew where I was,” he says, Anne looks irritated to this day. “She was a little devil. She was devious.” Kirk, was he really in love with her? “I was young.. she was a fantasy.” Anne continues. “He and I were very close and the last straw was I was driving him to the airport in my little Renault. He was going to go home to the US to finish 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and at the airport a stewardess comes to the car and says to Kirk, ‘Miss Pier Angeli is waiting for you on the plane.’ That did it. I broke up with him and I told him I’d never see him again. I went to a friend’s apartment in Nice and I told my maid not to tell Mr Douglas where I am. I am gone.”

So how did this make Kirk feel? “I now had my girlfriend Pier without her mother, on her own. This was New Year’s Eve and we were walking in a garden on a river and I was thinking of Anne.” So now he had Angeli he was bored? “Yes, maybe but she seemed to know. She took off the ring I gave her and threw it at me so next morning I used a lot of charm and made Anne’s maid tell me where she was. And I got my passport and went right to her.” Anne continues, “I had told him this was it but then he bribed my maid. I told him I didn’t want to see him again. I didn’t want to start it up again. And somehow he got me to go ski-ing with him in Switzerland. I went to Paris and he went back to America and asked if I would come and visit for two weeks. I told everybody in Paris, either he’s going to marry me or I come back for good. We had a wonderful time and then he said to me, ‘my ex-wife and children are coming in ten days.’ I said don’t worry I will have left. And he said, ‘No. don’t leave.’

Then one day he came home a little bit late, went down on his knees and asked me to marry him and tried to give me Pier Angelis’ ring.” She raises her eyebrows and I ask him what was he thinking?  “That’s nothing compared to what she did to me when we were in Paris and she made a birthday party….” Anne finishes the story because she’s proud of it. “Every girl, including the one from the night before when he said he was seeing rushes – he never sees rushes – was invited to that party. Every woman that he’d had an affair with in Paris that I knew of, and that line was very long already and I’m sure I missed a few, was there to greet him. And I was standing at the end and he turned to me and said, “You bitch.” We all laugh.

And you realise Anne’s humour, fighting spirit and ability to brush things off, just like she brushed off a Nazi interrogation, made her probably the only woman that was strong enough for him.  They went to Vegas to get married.

Anne recalls, “Because I didn’t know the word lawful I said I would take him to be my ‘awful’ wedded husband. As soon as we were married, Frank Sinatra was in one room performing, Mickey Rooney was in another. We were in a big suite in the Sahara hotel but we went from one place to another. I said to Kirk come on now to bed. He said, ‘we’ve been sleeping together for a year, tonight we are gambling.’”

Kirk and Anne refer to Kirk’s first wife Diana … the woman he married on leave from the Navy and Michael and Joel’s mother as ‘our ex-wife.’  Anne says, “We became instant friends and we never called her by her name – always our ex-wife. The first independent movie Kirk made was The Indian Fighter. He asked, ‘Do you mind if my ex-wife is in the movie?’ I said of course not.” Kirk says, “The kids have to come and live with you and the nanny as well. Is that OK? So the kids moved in while me and the ex-wife made the movie.” Anne was never jealous? “No, well not of her.  If I would get jealous it would have become a ridiculous habit. I said to him if it happens, you tell me. If I hear it from other people it hurts me deeply. If you tell me what you’re up to I can get by with it.  Maybe I missed a few hundred. I don’t know.”

Kirk, how many affairs did he confess to? “Oh I don’t know,” he says, suddenly put on the spot. “I’m not very good at keeping secrets.”  Anne reminds me, “One year he asked me would I like a surprise birthday party? If I have a bottom line it is to say that we were fantastic lovers and better friends. That is what gives us serenity and a great attachment. And now we are, I suppose it’s corny to say, but now we are one.”

They look at each other, their eyes both lock, it’s a sly exchange rather than an adoring one.  She catches me observing that. “It has been that way for a long time.”

Why did she convert to Judaism after fifty years of marriage? So Kirk could say, ‘I finally married a nice Jewish girl?’ She smiles. “I told the Rabbi I would like to convert and he said you don’t have to and I said I do for my husband.” The Rabbi comes every week and he and Kirk read scriptures, discuss the Torah and life. “So I did it. I did the Mikvah. Do you know what that is?” It means you have to submerge yourself in water, symbolic of a total cleanse. “Yes all the way in. my hair got wet. I was upset about that. The Rabbi said ‘invite whoever you want,” and I said sure. I’ll invite all my friends and they’ll see me with no polish no make-up, my hair hanging down. No thank you but then I ran to the hairdresser and became that nice Jewish girl.”

The one that Kirk always wanted? “Well, not really. Well…” he says coyly.

Anne Douglas is perfectly coiffed. Full on eye make-up, nails, everything and that’s just for sitting in the house. The Mikvah must have been quite a trauma. Kirk was Barmitzvahed twice. Once when he was 13 and he had to give all his Barmitzvah money to his father and the second time when he was 83. “I never brought my kids up Jewish. Both my wives were not Jewish but Michael’s children Dylan and Carys were interested in it.  When Dylan got to be 11 he wanted a Barmitzvah. He said ‘I want to be Jewish.’  Michael also always wanted to be accepted as a Jew, even though his mother wasn’t Jewish. Eric was Barmitzvahed and Peter and Peter’s children. It’s good. They came to it by themselves. Am I a good Jew? I don’t go to the Synagogue but the Rabbi is a friend and he comes every week.” Anne says, “And Kirk takes his confession.”

Kirk, for the first time not joking says, “Let’s not talk any more about religion because nobody really knows. I’m a hundred years old and I don’t think I’ll be going to heaven.”  Anne says, “Yes you will be going there. I will send you there and wherever else you want to go.”

They have written a book together, Kirk and Anne, the letters. Letters from when they first met. Letters when Anne was at home looking after the children and Kirk was on location after location. Kirk says, “I’ve written eleven books. I’m always talking about myself. I’ve never given credit to my wife. Why don’t we do a book together?” Anne continues, “Unbeknownst to me I’d kept all the letters. I found them among letters from famous people like Henry Kissinger.”  Douglas and Kissinger were friends and he was close to several presidents.

While they were separated on different continents they wrote to one another all the time. It’s interesting to see how he feels. He was so excited when he got the financing for Vikings but Tony Curtis wanted to be in it and take the role that Kirk had earmarked for himself, so he and Anne worked out the decision through letters.  Anne encouraging, “give it to Curtis. It will be good for box office.” And in another letter Laurence Olivier said that he wanted to play Spartacus, which obviously didn’t happen.

I wonder if all this swooping up of memories is him preparing to die. What does he think happens after you die? “What do I think of what?”  He doesn’t want to talk about it now but he’s written another book, Let’s Face It (he was 90 insert).

Steven Spielberg calls him dad. Why is that? “His mother had a restaurant, the Milky Way and I used to go there for lunch. His mother was so good. I got to know him and he became like a kid to me. I admire him. He’s a great guy and the only billionaire that I like. I won’t hold his money against him.”

My pedicurist went to their house a few years ago and she told me in the bathroom was a framed dollar bill. It was the first dollar he ever made and he framed it so he could always know what it was like to not have any money, to know that he made it on his own.  A little touchstone.

He held out for Dalton Trumbo to write the script of Spartacus even though at the time he was blacklisted.  Douglas was the catalyst that ended the cruel blacklisting in the McCarthy era. It was the era of the Cold War and anyone in the film industry who was suspected rightly or wrongly of being a communist was blacklisted.

Kirk bought the last ever Trumbo script Montezuma “and Steven bought it from me. I doubt it will come soon because it’s a huge project.”  There’s a tangible sadness. Obviously Douglas would have liked to see the movie made and jokes, “will we get any Mexicans in it or will they all be back in Mexico if Trump gets in?” Kirk changes the subject to Michael.  Michael is a good son. I never paid attention to him when he was growing up. I said Michael I want you to be a doctor or a lawyer and suddenly he got this part in a play. I told him Michael you were terrible.”

Michael Doulas has referred to this often. It must have hurt him. “No,” says Kirk, “because two months later I went to see him in another play and he was wonderful. I said Michael you were really good and he’s been really good in everything he’s done.”  Kirk bought XXXX, a Broadway Play for Michael and he also bought One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for Michael, even though Jack Nicholson ended up taking the role. Kirk and Michael had a constant banter about being rivals. They can do that because they’re very close. It’s been written that one close up of Kirk Douglas’s face in Spartacus is more powerful than the whole of Lawrence Olivier’s acting career. That’s a very tough act to follow.   You see him talking about Michael with pride and with love, something which his own father was never able to do about him. You feel glad that he was able to survive his past and not repeat it.

“You know when I got sick, the thing that hurt me was I couldn’t go to England. Burt Lancaster and I did the Palladium, you know. We were a big hit.” And then he starts singing. And the singing is really not bad, in fact he’s singing more in tune than me as we both attempt ‘maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner that I love London town.” It’s sweet. We laugh and he says, “I’m glad you brought London to me.”

Kirk Douglas is the last remaining star of the golden age and seeing him, this hundred year old man who has struggles with his knees, with hearing, seeing, talking, you see that spirit, a spirit that wants to not only survive not only conquer but charm. If his father had loved him maybe he wouldn’t have needed the world to love him so much and he wouldn’t have been as good at it. In a couple of hours he has totally charmed me, a man who can barely speak has utterly seduced me and that’s why he is a star.

Mel Gibson (Sunday Times Magazine, November 6, 2016)

Mel Gibson Sunday Times Magazine cover
Mel Gibson Sunday Times Magazine cover

I first met Mel Gibson over 15 years ago at a party on the Sony lot for the movie The Patriot. He came up behind me and turned me upside down and carried me around.  I was hysterical but this was one of his party tricks.  This was Mel. Maverick, wild, funny, unpredictable. Not much has changed in him since then but in a way everything has. He’s still wild in his heart. But he’s had to rein it in because of the periods where he was completely out of control.  Everyone has an opinion about Gibson.  Especially after his drunken, Anti- Semitic rant on the PCH Highway when he was stopped for driving under the influence in July 2006.  And then in 2011 there was the “leaked” recordings of nasty rows with his then girlfriend, Russian model and musician Oksana Grigorieva, mother of his 7 year old daughter Lucia.  For some he’ll always be a hero. He’ll always be Braveheart. Alec Baldwin, Jodie Foster and  Robert Downey Junior have all spoken up for him, the latter when presenting him with an award addressed the audience, ‘unless you are completely without sin, in which case you picked the wrong f****** industry to join me in forgiving my friend his trespasses and offering him the same clean slate that you have me…’

Hollywood are of course slow to forgive.  His directing genius was quiet and mostly unseen for this past decade. Of course he apologised. Of course he worked on himself but the industry needs something different than that. It needs a movie that is so powerful it erases any other feeling except awe for Gibson.  Hacksaw Ridge is that movie. Powerful, spectacular, emotional, gripping. I sat through it hardly able to breathe. In Venice it got a 10 minute standing ovation.

It’s the Mel Gibson comeback movie. Here he is, Hollywood reupholstered, repatched and re-treaded for the road with a story that’s brutal, graphic and emotional. Hacksaw is the story of Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to win the Congressional Medal of Honour for bravery in WW11.  Doss was a seven day Eventist – his religious beliefs meant he couldn’t carry a gun but as a medic he could save lives even though constantly endangering his own.

This kind of shining bravery is just what Gibson loves. I’m waiting for him in an office in West Hollywood. He arrives with an air of fluster, announcing that he NEEDS a coffee and something to eat. It’s lunchtime and he hasn’t eaten yet. He’s wearing dark jeans, a navy pullover and a giant beard grown for an upcoming movie, the Professor of the Madman with Sean Penn. He likes to twiddle on this beard quite a bit. He combs it and strokes it unconsciously.

His eyes stare out, not so much at me. I tell him that I loved Hacksaw but he’s too focused on his hunger to take the compliment. I ask him how the story came to him. “It was given to me by Bill Mechanic (the man who used to run Fox) three times and on the third time I said yes.  I turned down Braveheart and then looked at it again.”

Braveheart (1995) was the 13th century Scottish epic where Gibson the movie star and Gibson the film maker collaborated in perfect reel. His first impact was with Mad Max (1979) a post-apocalyptic thriller.  It made Gibson a star in his native Australia and after that Gallipoli (1981), Peter Weir’s epic Australian First World War drama made him a star worldwide.

He directed and funded the Passion of The Christ (2004).  It drew controversy – of course, but remains the biggest grossing independent film of all time.   It’s been 10 years since he helmed Apocalypto (2006) about the decline and savagery of the Mayan kingdom.  It was received well but Hacksaw is being spectacularly embraced.

Is he happy he made it now rather than a few years ago? He nods enthusiastically, pointing out that 10 years ago when it landed on his desk, its leading actor, Andrew Garfield would have been too young for the part.  Garfield’s (Boy A and Spiderman) portrayal of Desmond Doss is remarkable. So weedy, yet brave. Handsome but awkward.

“He’s got a very soulful quality. He wasn’t like some muscle guy. He’s just a guy. Good looking but not like a pretty boy and that’s who Desmond was. An ordinary guy.”  Did Gibson meet Doss before making the movie? “No. he passed away in 2006 at 87 but before he died he’d given his life rights to his church to dispose of. The church were pretty concerned. They didn’t want to give it to just anybody so Bill Mechanic was very sensitive to their requirements and wanted to honour the story of Desmond. As early as 1948 Hal Wallace (American producer of Casablanca and True Grit) was trying to get the rights to make a movie but Desmond never even went into a cinema. They even commandeered Audy Murphy (one of the most decorated American soldiers of World War II) to talk to him and say, ‘look I’m a war hero and I’m making movies. It’s ok. But Desmond said, “I’ll just stay here and grow my vegetables.” He was humble but then he realised that two or three other men followed his lead as a conscientious objector medic and he realised that his story would inspire other people. Desmond was selfless.  He put his life on the line for somebody else in a heartbeat and would do it over and over again.”

When Doss first joined the army and refused to carry a weapon he was not only mocked by his fellow soldiers he was tortured. “The persecution was more protracted. We don’t show all of it in the film. And yet this was the man who got 75 guys, dragged them and pulled them on a rope down a big cliff and he was only 150 pounds. He stepped on a grenade to save a friend and as he was being carried off in a stretcher he saw someone who was wounded, so he jumped off, treated the guy and put HIM on the stretcher.”

The ultimate battle scene in Hacksaw is in Okinawa where Desmond pulls out men from carnage – it’s Gibson at his best. Blood, gore, salvation. There’s a guy in it who gets his legs blown off played by a soldier who lost his limbs in Afghanistan. He had to re-enact losing his own legs. He wore his prosthetics for the rest of the movie. Was that not a bit traumatic for him? “Yes it was. He approached the scene with trepidation but he’s a courageous guy and he found it cathartic.”

There’s also a lot of blood in this movie. “Yes,” he says enthusiastically. “I really like blood.”  Really? “Yes. Okinawa was the worst place in the Pacific.  350,000 dead in a 10 week period. There were rivers of blood. I didn’t go too far, believe me.” I notice at the beginning of the movie there is a shot of Desmond getting a blood taste. The blood is shot with awe. “Oh well,” he shrugs. “Doss met his wife while giving blood. He did it a few times, initially because he wanted to help people.”

Did Gibson identify with Doss? Long pause. “I think we all want to think we can be like that. When we see somebody like him, it reassures us that the human spirit is capable of just about anything and when things look really bleak that’s a good message to get. This is an extraordinary guy who did extraordinary things in extremely difficult circumstances. And that would test the mettle of anyone’s spirit, heart and mind and it’s also a great story.”

Hacksaw was shot in Australia so that too has a feeling of renaissance for Gibson. It was also a family affair. His son Milo was in it. “I’m not helping him. He’s doing alright on his own. I have another son who worked on the film who was a Steadicam operator.”

It was good to work with family? “Yes.” There’s a twiddle of the beard. “Yes it was good.”

His eight children range from 6 to 36 in age. Seven of them are with his ex wife of 31 years Robyn. He was married to Robyn when we met.  He described her as his rock, more organised than him – a nurturing figure. There was never a hint of a betrayal in those years. Word is he was devastated when she left him, but even when they were at their happiest he found it difficult to talk about love.  Way too girly for him.  Gibson is a guy’s guy. He doesn’t like talking about soft stuff but he’s happy to talk about his children, raving about their talents.  One son is a sculptor and glass blower, another is a chopper pilot and TV producer, another (Louis) is a film director whose first movie has just been completed.  It was just announced that he is expecting his ninth child with writer Rosalind Ross, his girlfriend of two years, a former equestrian high jumper . She’s 26, he’s 60. While much can be made of their 34 year age difference, the relationship seems both steady and steadying. What does he think about having a ninth child? “Delighted.” According to People magazine he’s had the happiest two years of his life.

The conversation circles back to the Venice ovation. “Nine minutes 52 seconds.” How did that make him feel? Happy, relieved, back? “Absolutely. It’s like being a chef. If people eat it and go yum yum it’s gratifying. If you’re a story teller it tells you that somewhere in your quiver you’ve got a bunch of bolts that are aimed true. It’s affirmation for the work you do and that your story telling ideas correspond with humanity at large.”

I think about this. Is he admitting it was hard for him to have people not forgive him and now he feels accepted again? He says, “Well it’s not like I stopped working….There have been many projects…but this is my first as a director for ten years.” Yes there have been movies in which he has acted, notably the Beaver which was about a man having a break down, who only has the ability to speak through his glove puppet Beaver.  It was a poignant performance directed by his friend Jodie Foster.  It struck a chord with me because it seemed to echo Gibson himself, in pain and unable to speak except through rage.  And more recently there was Blood Father which has been well received. “Peter Weir or Terry Malick, these take ten years between projects. It’s because they are very discerning. I am discerning and I’m not sure that I want to reach into my own pocket anymore because it can pay huge dividends or you can get totally killed.”

The Passion was the biggest grossing independent film of all time. “Yes, so that was an excellent bet.” I have read that there’s going to be a sequel. “Not a sequel, but a continuation. There’s resurrection, there’s stuff before, stuff after, stuff in other realms but it’s a very big subject, deep and profound so it will require a good deal of thought. It has to be enlightening and work on a lot of different levels that all have to dovetail so it will be tricky.” He has said before “I love directing. It’s the most fun you can have standing up.”

Eventually someone brings him a croissant. He tears into it like a caveman into an animal.  He hasn’t eaten since the veal chop and spinach last night. “I need carbs. Every now and again you have to snort some pasta.” Bits of croissant flake into the bushy beard which he strokes proudly. In The Professor and the Madman, Sean Penn is the Madman but it could have easily gone the other way round. “It could. We gravitated to those roles. Sean can be just as crazy as me. My theory about great actors – and Sean is a great actor – they have to be a little bit kooky and he is.”

Hard to say who is king of kooky but Gibson has certainly reigned supreme as the practical joker. He’s been good friends with Julia Roberts since they worked on Conspiracy Theory (1997) and likes to send her freeze dried Norwegian rats. “I love her and I love to hear her scream. I put a Norwegian freeze dried rat that comes from a store in New York City in a parcel and when she unwrapped it she screamed.”

We laugh about the rat and now he seems perfectly relaxed. People can forgive him for sending rats to Julia Roberts but does he worry that other people haven’t forgiven him? “Really? Are there? I’m not aware of it.”  So that’s me in a question cul de sac. If you can’t admit that you ever worried about people not forgiving you, the problem doesn’t exist, therefore we can’t plunder the coalface of his rage and alcohol issues.  He’s apologised of course and says, “Look, I’ve done all the necessary work over the years to come back and I’m in a healthy place. As you can see I am tee totalling.” He gestures to his coffee cup. Is he sure there’s no vodka in it? “Not even a drop.”

He rummages in his bag and gets out a picture of the man he’s going to play in The Professor and The Madman. The beard is even longer.  A rabbinical Santa Claus? “Kind of but he was very scholarly and a Scot and he was the editor of the English Oxford Dictionary.  The movie is not dry at all. It’s incredible.” Soon he’s off to Ireland to shoot it. “Sean and I are going to look like ZZ Top.” I tell him he looks like he could work in an Apple store, his beard is so long. “I would be proud to get a job there. Those techy guys are usually pretty bright. Maybe fur does confer brains. Con-fur?” he jokes. There’s no doubt that Gibson is beyond smart, an instinctive story teller who knows how to manipulate his sc            reen audiences emotions.

In the initial tests for Hacksaw I was surprised to see that women liked the movie more than men. “The hard combat and the violent aspects are not gratuitous. They are justified in the context of the story and it is emotionally engaging. It’s not just a bucket of blood being thrown down. It has a point. One of the points being the understanding of the kind of sacrifice someone makes in the conditions that they are operating under. You hear the expression war is hell. I wanted to show you just a little peek of hell. I thought it was important to have the audience feel that they were in a foxhole too and to bring them some understanding of what post-traumatic stress disorder is like. I’ve talked to people about this since the beginning of my career when I was in my twenties and they were in their eighties. I’ve talked to World War I guys (when he did Gallipoli), I’ve talked to World War II guys like my dad and guys who have been in the Vietnam war and guys who have been to Afghanistan. It doesn’t matter what the war was, they all got PTSD.”

In the First World War they called it shell shock, didn’t they? “Yes but I don’t think there was enough attention paid to it. Something is needed and I hope this could bring awareness to the problems we have today with returning service guys who are suffering.”

Did he miss directing, being ten years away from it? He doesn’t answer yes or no, but says, “I didn’t want to stick my hand in my pocket again.” Next up he’s doing a TV show called The Barbary Coast with Kurt Russell. It’s set in San Francisco 1849 at the time of the gold rush. They are writing it and directing it together and Kate Hudson will be in it. “It was a crazy place. Corruption, debauchery, murders, lawlessness.” He said the word lawlessness with relish. “Yes, because we are talking about an anarchic society that has its own rules. Remember Lord of the Flies? If you leave people to their own devices you see what animals they become. It shows the best and the worst of us.”

He seems excited and a whole lot more relaxed. I think that’s a lot to do with the croissant. What would he be like in that gold rush? The sweetest version of himself or the cruellest? “I don’t know,” he says, pensive. “When you’re thrown in to situations you never know.” If he were in Hacksaw Ridge would he be the medic that saves lives? “No, that would be crazy. What would I do? I don’t know. How do you survive in that world?” His stories are usually about survival and sometimes redemption. “Yes, sure. These are all primals. I think if you stick with themes that show us who we are and find situations that accentuate who we could be or shouldn’t be, those are the interesting stories.”

I give him a gift that was made for him by an enclosed order of Welsh Nuns – hand carved beads with Celtic cross and Star of David. The nuns gave it to me for him a few years ago because they’re all about forgiveness and this particular cross is only worn by these nuns, the Poor Clares. Basically you have to be a nun to get one of these so they made a special effort.  He looks mystified, bewildered but he likes the idea of these nuns who were once fallen women. And now he has something that can only be worn by nuns, is he in touch with his female side?  “Oh sure, yes…. I remember I was in a film years ago and how the dialogue went when I was getting in touch with my female side.” Really? “Yes, the dialogue was like this:

“Last night I cried in bed.”
“Were you with a woman?”
“No, that’s why I was crying.”
That was the B grade dialogue from Lethal Weapon 1 and I can attribute that to Shane Black.” So despite the fact that Gibson did a movie What Women Want and he waxed his legs for it, he makes a point of not wanting to know what women want and not wanting to be in touch with his female side. “In fact I feel we should do another movie. What women don’t want.”

Barbra Streisand (August 21, 2016)

I’m in Malibu. Not quite in Barbra Streisand’s house but at a studio just down the road from it.  She’s been doing some TV interviews. Lights are set up, so bright that I have to peer to see her face. I sit opposite.  Her eyes stare out, pierce me. She’s wearing a soft drapey black dress, multiple long gold chains and strappy sandals that have spikes across the straps. Dark red toe polish. The feet are very maitress – dominatrix even, the rest of her soft. She’s always loved that kind of juxtaposition, masculism meets feminism, strong meets vulnerable.

The TV light is shining so brightly, so harsh it floors me for a second. I want to hug her hello. This is Barbra Streisand whose songs I’ve known all my life, whose voice is so familiar to me, whose voice has been a comfort in its complete emotional empathy. Whatever I’ve felt or whatever you’ve felt, Barbra’s felt it more and she’s showed us.  Unlike any other performer she acts out her songs so we feel them. That’s part of her charm, part of what makes her an icon.

My arms are in a clumsy outreach and I remember her telling me before hugging doesn’t come naturally. She had a complicated relationship with her mother who was perhaps so full of fear for her that she might fail, was always discouraging – she told her her voice was too thin. Her mother wasn’t a toucher. She never hugged her. “For a long time touching felt alien.” Now she can just about do it, touch that is. She could never please her mother. “But I owe her my career. I was always trying to prove to her that I was worthy of being somebody.”

Of course there’s less angst about Barbra now, more composure, more polish. Instead of a hug I deliver her a cake, one which was made from the same recipe as her favourite bakery in Brooklyn (Ebbingers which closed in 1974).

My friend’s grandmother was the manager. He has all the recipes  It’s a mocha almond cake and more powerful than a hug or a kiss. If Streisand was a little wary, a little suspicious, she’s overcome by that other emotion – food is love.

She’s always loved food a little too much, always on a diet although she’s never been fat. She once used a cake onstage to make her cry. Didn’t she have a girlfriend waiting in the wings with a cake so that she could feel yearning? “That’s right,” she says. “It wasn’t a girlfriend, it was someone from the production. It was a chocolate cake and it was put on the stool where I could see it. It wasn’t that I had to cry,” she corrects. “I love details about truth. It was that I was supposed to be in love with the actor but I couldn’t feel anything for him. I didn’t even like him so I put the piece of cake in the wings so I could pine for the piece of cake.” We laugh. A real proper laugh, the composure gone. “The play was Christopher Fry’s A Phoenix Too Frequent.”

I tell her I know the play. It’s an awful play. I too acted in it and had fallen out with the lead actor. I could have done with a piece of cake. Perhaps that’s why my acting career plummeted. I love that we were in the same awful play.

Streisand though is still thinking about the piece of cake in the wings. “It was a piece of chocolate cake, a slice the perfect size to fit in the mouth. I would have preferred it with some vanilla ice cream but that would have melted on the set. It was a good enough tool. Use something that’s real for you.”

That’s the thing with Streisand. She always seems real and not afraid to be herself. I remember the story of when she was asked to play Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. Real life Brice had had a nose job. “She cut off her nose to spite her race,” quipped Dorothy Parker. It almost cost Streisand the part. They worried that Streisand looked too Jewish to play a Jewish star with a nose job.

You think of Streisand being all about perfection, control but she’s more about not being afraid of who she is. Vulnerability and fearlessness is always an intoxicating mix. She loves her Jewishness. She loves to eat like a Jew, even if she can’t cook like one, although she has told me that recently she studies recipes.

The thing that gets you about her album Encore is its absolute Barbra-ness. I wonder has she improvised some of the words of the songs. For instance in At the Ballet her character is told to bring it down. Did anyone tell her that in an audition? “No. They could have but they didn’t. It’s in the play.” It seems like she wrote it. “I know,” she nods, “that’s good writing.”

The songs are all rediscovered classics with rediscovered artists. Any Moment Now with Hugh Jackman paints a scene of a relationship falling apart, with details that seem so graphic it’s painful. I’ll Be Seeing You which she sings with Chris Pine is a revelation and Jamie Foxx singing Climb Every Mountain is so soulful it’s probably the best version of the song ever. “Good, because I don’t really love the song. I wanted to make it stand on its own rather than just something from The Sound of Music. We improvised some of the new lines. Some of them weren’t in the original. I knew he had a good voice but he surprised me with an even better voice and he sings from his heart.”

Foxx and Streisand seem an unusual juxtaposition, but somehow she brings out a softness in him that she couldn’t have imagined and he brings out a certainty in her that is properly moving.

There’s also a duet with Anthony Newley, probably his most famous song Who Can I Turn To which he wrote with Leslie Bricusse from the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint and the Smell of the Crowd. It’s the one song where the partners’ voice is more distinctive than Streisand. Newley in his shaky cockney tones sounds like David Bowie Laughing Gnome period.  “I’ve heard that David Bowie was very influenced by Tony Newley. I was doing Funny Girl and he was doing The Roar of the Greasepaint and I met him that year and thought he was fantastic and then we became friends,” she says casually. I tell her that at one point I was friendly with Sasha Newley, his son and briefly we worked on a musical about his father’s life and in the course of that I uncovered a song called Too Much Woman.  It was a song that Newley wrote about Streisand who, according to his son, he was completely in love with. Newley loved women. One can say they were his addiction but for him Streisand stood alone, the unconquerable too much woman. Did she ever know about this song he wrote for her? “Tony Newley sent it to me when he was dying and I thought wow.” She sings it to me, “I heard you on the radio today…” She sings it in a Newley style voice. It’s a wonderful song. I love that song. Her voice is slightly shaky now. She smiles. She wasn’t expecting that I knew about that song but she’s far from floored by it, or the idea that for all these years he held a candle that was more than a candle, that he was deeply in love and she was too much woman for him.

“Well you have exclusive knowledge for your article don’t you because it has never been written about. I’m proud of that song. I’m proud that he wrote it for me.” What does she think of the concept of being too much woman? Surely she as one of the ultimate women could never feel there is such a thing. We have a woman Prime Minister in the UK for which both left and right seem grateful that she’s sensible and safe. Isn’t this a new age where there’s not such a thing as too much woman?

“I don’t know much about your Prime Minister. She’ll probably have more balls than the old one.” Is Hillary Clinton too much woman for the United States? “I hope not. I really hope not but I think the British have always been…..” her voice trailed off. “I might have told you this before but when I made Yentl as a first time director I made it in England. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minster and you had a Queen, so powerful women were no big deal. I think this country we still think of powerful women as suspect, you know like they’re too ambitious or they’re control freaks which is such a shame.”

Does she think it’s the end of the glass ceiling and it’s a world power moment for women? “I hope so. I pray that we will have Hillary as our President and I think that informed, smart people are going to vote for her, at least I hope. I’ve met a lot of people who are powerful and smart like Michelle Obama.” On the day we meet, Donald Trump’s wife had stolen most of Michelle Obama’s speech. Streisand looks irritated. “They are that stupid? Golda Meir,” She says suddenly. “She was one of the first women to head a country (1969-1974 when she resigned). I had a conversation with Golda Meir when it was the 30th anniversary of Israel and that shows you all that women can be. She could declare war on one hand and say ‘would you like a Danish with the coffee?’ with the other. She was the grandma – a very warm, sweet lady, yet a powerful leader. Women can be many things, angry and forgiving, have PhD’s and manicures.”

Streisand always has a beautiful manicure. A little defiant touchstone. Her mother told her to cut her nails and learn to be a typist. Of course you can type with nails and if you’re Streisand you probably have a super power to type and have good nails. I have none. She looks at my fingers and looks a little mournful but it’s because she’s distracted.  I’m thinking that we’d segue way from God Meyer into racism, hate crimes and what it means to be a Super Jew but she’s like, “Can we talk about Newley some more? What happened to this musical? Why are you not working on it anymore? Did you disagree?” Not really, he just went off me. “Why was that? What year was that? Is that why Sasha was calling me and I could never find out exactly what it was that he wanted? I’ve met Sasha. I’ve seen his artwork. He came to my house with this kids and his mum. The little girl wanted to see my dolls houses.”

In Streisand’s actual home she has an annexe where she keeps dolls houses, old fashioned. I’m not sure if they’re vintage or modelled on vintage. She told me once that she didn’t have a proper childhood so that’s why she likes the dolls houses. She was bullied for looking too weird looking, too Jewish and constantly criticised by her mother Diana who was herself a soprano. Typical of Streisand to be able to play like a little girl when she feels most womanly. She tells me she’s happy with James Brolin to whom she’s been married for 18 years. Her manager Marty Erlichman she’s been with for 50 years and her assistant Renata Buser (43 years) somewhere in between the two. She’s a striver but she thrives on stability. Growing up there can’t have been much of that, her critical mother telling her she’d never amount to anything. It was a painful sharpening of her drive. Her father Emanuel died from complications after an epileptic seizure when she was only 15 months old. It was brought on when a hospital gave him a fatal dose of morphine to treat his constant headaches.

In her childhood the high point was cake from the bakery. Now at 74 she can still remember the cake and how she strove to find her father. She sees herself in two parts – the feminine that loves ruffles and lace and she sees her father. He represents her masculine side. “I found him during Yentl. I created him. I was the director, I was the one in control. I was the male figure. It was all very cathartic.”

She started off singing in clubs at 17 or 18. For her first record she agreed to take less money as long as she could have artistic control. “That’s right. That’s called a control freak but why would any man or woman not want to be in control of their own lives.” Now she belongs to a small coterie of luminaries who have collected Oscars, Emmy’s, Globes, Grammy’s and Tony’s.

Her white fluffy dog Samantha, a Coton de Tuléar , gives a yowl of appreciation or maybe it’s of desire because she’s just realised there’s a cake. She brings the subject back to Tony Newley. “He had a fantastic voice and he was so lovely and very handsome, yes. I loved his looks. He looked like the Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist.”

Streisand’s always liked beautiful men. She told me once it was the one thing they all had in common. Warren Beatty, Ryan O’Neal, Don Johnson.  “All attractive. I love beauty whether it’s in a piece of furniture or a man. My husband has the perfect forehead, the perfect jaw, the perfect teeth. Even if he makes me angry I get a kick out of his symmetry.”

She’s referring to her husband James Brolin. Her first husband was Elliot Gould who she married in 1963. They have a son Jason now aged 49.  They divorced in 1971 I wonder if she was too much woman for him too. This was after her iconic performances in Funny Girl and Hello Dolly and I wonder if he felt in her shadow.

Even now she’s not terribly at ease with the interview process. “People make up stories about me. Maybe it’s more interesting.” She’s still working on an autobiography and says her relationship with work has changed. She says she’s become lazy. Although she told me once over the years the happier she’s become, the less she’s needed to work, she’s still a worker. There’s the album, a tour and soon she starts work on Gypsy in which she plays Mama Rose, the ultimate stage mother.

I can’t understand why so much has been made about her never looking the perfect leading lady. I don’t think it’s a question of she grew into her face either. I think she carried around the sense that she was an oddball, a misfit and became a champion for other misfits. Because she believed it, other people believed it and when you look back at her in The Way We Were and Funny Girl it wasn’t just as critics said, her talent was her beauty. She was actually gorgeous. A proper star. She has used her stardom well. These days it means more to her to have her name on the Barbra Streisand Woman’s Heart Centre than in lights. More women die of heart attacks than breast cancer, yet more money is raised for breast cancer. Streisand is a lobbyist. She wants more funds. She tells me that recently she was given mice for a trial and she demanded all female mice. It is after all a women’s heart foundation with women’s hormones and physiognomies. “It was a fight,” she says. So in the day of potential female world leaders she still has to fight to get an all women trial, the next step after getting all female mice.

She doesn’t look exhausted by the thought of it, rather excited. She’s made me laugh, made me think. Would it be appropriate to hug her goodbye? Not really.

Chelsea Handler (Sunday Times Magazine, May 15, 2016)

Everyone has a little bit of Chelsea Handler in them — the bit that can’t suffer fools and likes to make fun of people,the bit that thinks they’ve got something special and should never have to fly economy.Most people don’t know how to unleash their inner Handler.They worry what people will think. Handler has never cared about that. She’s made a career out of making fun of people.

The American comedian, actress, writer, producer and close pal of Jennifer Aniston remains only the second woman to have a US late-night talk show (the first was Joan Rivers). Chelsea Lately aired for nearly eight years on the American channel E! It was compulsive viewing, attracting guests such as Lindsay Lohan and the Kardashians,even though Handler was never sycophantic, possibly even a touch cruel. She has written five bestselling books — including 2005’s My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands and 2008’s Are You There,Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea — and has racked up almost 6m Twitter followers, but she remains relatively unknown in Britain.That’s changing thanks to the four documentaries she has made for Netflix.The series is called Chelsea Does and tackles marriage, Silicon Valley, racism and drugs. The 41-year-old says she learnt a lot. She also reveals a lot: behind her rapier wit, there’s a vulnerable side.

I arrive at her house in Bel Air. It’s modern, comfortably furnished,with arty photos, furry dining room chairs, outside deck and pool. Most surprising is that it seems really lived-in.We go up to her bedroom to talk and sit on opposite couches. She’s wearing ripped jeans and a fawn sweater, no shoes, no make-up, no brush has been through the hair. Her bed is unmade.A pair of Stella McCartney stilettos is discarded on the floor. It turns out McCartney is a good friend and they’d been for a night out recently. She doesn’t mention Aniston.

As well as the documentaries, she’s launched a Netflix talk show, which mixes live action, politics and documentary footage, and it airs three times a week. I ask if Donald Trump will be vain enough to appear. “I doubt it. I’ve been pretty public about calling him an asshole and last week I was in Mexico with a piñata of him. I tied it to a tree and everyone beat the shit out of it.The video went viral. I’d love to have Hillary Clinton on it, I love Hillary.” Chunk, her dog, trots in, fluffy-fresh from the groomer. He’s part chow and part German shepherd; he looks like a teddy bear. Handler calls everything she loves Chunk: her first boyfriend, her mother, who died 10 years ago.“We called each other Chunk.” Her first boyfriend, a Brit called Peter, makes an appearance in the documentary about marriage.They met for the first time in years to be filmed and he revealed that she used to reallywant children. She pooh-poohs his suggestion: “ I love kids most of the time if they are my friends’ or my family’s. He confused that with a desire to have them, which there was not.”

At 41 there still isn’t. On the table in front of her is a green drink.“This is what I have to drink every day, do you want to try it?” I decline.“Dieting is rough, it’s a pain in the ass for everyone.A lot of people in this town just don’t eat.” Does being on TV all of the time make her extra aware? “Yes, and I work out all of the time, and I actually enjoy that, but the dieting is really hard for me. I’m good for a few days and then I go off.” She thinks she might be an alcoholic.“If I don’t drink for more than three nights you can tell in my personality. I just need alcohol in my system . I love alcohol — it makes me happy.”

Handler was 39 when she quit E! because she no longer found her show challenging. For most women, the cusp of 40 isn’t the age when people start afresh; it’s not when confidence is at its highest. But Handler isn’t most women.“Like anything in my career, I like to excel at something and then I’m done and want to be out of my comfort zone. I was bored with the sound of my voice and I wasn’t feeling particularly grateful any more. I was bored with these celebrities on rotation. I just thought this has afforded me tons of luxury and access to many things, but it’s not like I’m saving lives. I thought I should be doing something more interesting.”

Cue the documentaries. How did she decide on the four subjects? “It was important for me to do something that everybody is familiar with. Marriage is something everyone can talk about. I never had the desire to be married and I’ve never been interested in that kind of construct. Drugs: I love doing drugs. Racism: I thought, let me see if I can do something serious but with a sense of humour.” In the tech documentary she creates an app.

The racism documentary is emotional, especially when she goes to Jerusalem to speak with the former Israeli president Shimon Peres.“He said,‘Walls are meant to be torn down.’ I loved it when he said that. My father once said,‘When you read a book, even if you don’t like it,there’s always one sentence that should resonate.’That was the line that was really powerful.” Handler’s father appears often in Chelsea Does. He is perhaps the reason she never became someone’s wife; he told her that she wasn’t the type of girl that anyone would marry, which she took as a compliment.

Her father was a used-car salesman and they grew up in a Jewish suburb of New Jersey. Her mother was a Mormon of German descent who converted to Judaism. Handler is the youngest of six, the eldest of whom, her brother Chet, died in a hiking accident when he was 21. Handler couldn’t wait to leave suburbia, so at 19 she was West Coast-bound with a backdrop of determination over tragedy. She thought she would try acting, but ended up waitressing before turning her failed romances into comedy gold. “It was when Peter [the British ex-boyfriend] and I broke up that I started to get good material for stand-up, so I stopped being a waitress.”The day after they split up, she let herself into his apartment to find him in bed with someone else.“I was angry, and when you’re angry, you come up with good stuff.”

In the marriage documentary she also reveals a preference for dating foreign men.Yet two of her most famous exes are American. In 2010 she was briefly with the rapper 50 Cent and in 2013 she dated the hotelier André Balazs, who is behind the London celebrity haunt Chiltern Firehouse. “He’s not anything you’d imagine, but that was just a flash in the pan,” she says of 50 Cent. Was she in love with him? “No!” What about British Pete? “He was my first love.” She says she is “independent and I always wanted to be.That was important to me because both my parents were hot messes.They loved each other, but they had no financial security and it was constantly,‘Don’t answer the phone, it might be a bill collector.’We weren’t poor, but you never knew what was going to happen.”

As the youngest of six, did she have to make her mark? “I think I was born that way, intent on being something bigger. For me, my life was going to begin once I left [New Jersey].When I came here I didn’t know what I wanted to be, I just wanted to be known. As a waitress I got fired from many different places. I went off on people if they were rude.” She asks if I mind if she uses the restroom and do I want to watch her? I don’t.While she is away I notice a plate on her coffee table that says: “Look, sweetheart, I can drink you under any goddamn table you want.”

Alcohol isn’t her only vice. For the documentary on drugs, she tried the mind-expanding drug ayahuasca. She says she enjoys doing drugs.“Last night I smoked a little pot, went to bed at 8.30pm and woke up at 7am. It was great. I’d rather do that than take a sleeping pill.”

I tell her my theory that women can’t be sexy and good at stand-up. Female comics who do well are often fat, misshapen or unlucky.“I don’t think that’s true,” she says.“I think I’m quite tomboyish — I don’t wear skirts in real life, so why wear one on stage? But it wasn’t hard for me at all.There’s a constant discussion about gender disparity, and of course it exists, but in my experience it’s been a huge advantage to be a woman.” And this is where you see her inner Handlerness, made of titanium.

In 2014 she posed topless on a horse — mirroring the shot of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. She didn’t realise it would cause a stir.Thirty minutes after posting the picture to Instagram, the site removed it, saying she had violated the app’s terms of service. “I was making a joke.The reaction was incredible. Why is a man allowed to ride topless when a woman isn’t? Because we have big breasts? What the f*** is that? I just wanted to highlight its idiocy.”

She says she could never have done anything other than comedy.“If this didn’t work out, I’d have to marry someone really wealthy. I’ve always wanted nice things, and I never want to fly economy again. Ever! And I need to be working to do that and doing something that’s compelling. I don’t have a lot of skill sets, so I have to try and be really good at the only thing I can do.”

She smiles, happy in the knowledge that the thing she can do is all she needs.

Matt Damon

Matt Damon looks like he hasn’t had any sleep. Probably hasn’t. We meet in New York just a few days after his wife Luciana Barroso has given birth to their third daughter together Stella.
He is wearing a grey beanie hat, he hasn’t shaved, a thick grey sweatshirt and heavy jeans and boots. A thick silver wedding band his only jewellery.
“This is my guy just had a baby look. I have changed since then. I showered. Took the kids to school and made it here today. They love the new Stella. I’ve got pictures uploaded of the kids holding her.”
Can I see? “Are you asking a dad if you can see pictures of his kids? Sure,” he purrs. We are here to talk about his new movie Adjustment Bureau – a fantastical romance. It’s part science fiction, part love story. But first we look at the pictures of his family on his phone. On one of them his four-year-old Isabella is holding the new baby and looking very proud. “She looks so excited in that picture. It’s awesome.”
I wonder if ten years ago he had this vision of himself – happy father at 40, content in his personal life, the most bankable actor alive and the most sought after one. It’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t always like that and ten years ago he was worried that after two movies had been commercial failures, Bagger Vance and All The Pretty Horses, he feared a third one would wreck his future on the A-list.
“It’s interesting. Ten years ago Bush was about to steal the election and I was in Paris shooting The Bourne Identity, a movie that would change this whole decade in a huge way. I was very focused on making the movie. In that way I haven’t changed at all if I’m working on a part. So that feels the same.”
Did he really feel that it was three strikes and you’re out? “Yes, Bagger Vance and All The Pretty Horses were just coming out and I was acutely aware that I had to do something. I don’t apologise for those movies. I know why I made them, but more so now you’re really aware of where you are in this business. I think turning 30 there was so much in my life that was unresolved, but turning 40 I didn’t feel anything, there wasn’t a hiccup. I felt wonderful to have an amazing and beautiful wife and children and from a work perspective things going really well.
“Forties is a great time for men in the business, much tougher for women. But from my perspective it was an occasion to celebrate.”
The thirties weren’t just a time of uncertainty in his career. Emotionally they were unsettling too. “I knew intellectually that I wanted to have kids and move on with my life but I couldn’t really imagine it. I just hadn’t met her yet and I was extremely aware of that.”
Now contentment and love glow seeps from his every pore. How has he learnt to balance the level of work he does with down time with his family? “On the one hand I’m most excited and most alive when I’m working on something I love. That feels great. But not to the detriment of my family. I try to have my cake and eat it. For instance working with Clint, he’ll shoot an eight or ten hour day. Which is the regular hours most parents go to work. And I feel it’s a great creative experience and then I’m home with my kids and have a good time with them.”
Last year he made the movie Hereafter directed by Clint Eastwood where he played the part of a medium. Did he visit a medium to get in to that part? “No. if I had a line into someone who I’d heard was great I would have done but I didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole of pretenders. This guy’s relationship is with people on earth and his loneliness. That yearning to have a real connection with another person. So that part was much easier to get into.”
Has he experienced that kind of loneliness and looking for that connection? “I had other relationships that were meaningful and I was very busy so I don’t think I was ever deeply lonely. In retrospect having the wife that I do and the life that I do and the children I can’t imagine living in any other way. But I didn’t feel the absence of that because I didn’t know what it was.”
His character in his new film Adjustment Bureau is a politician who fights his alleged predetermined destiny. He is prepared to risk everything for love. Would he? “Would I risk everything? If you ask most parents a choice between their career and their family I don’t think there’s much of a choice at all.”
One of the movie’s themes questions, is all of life predestined or do you have a chance to make your own destiny? What does he really think? “I am responsible for my life and the decisions I make. Or is it a predetermined course that no matter what I do I’ll be going down? This guy is shown a glimpse of that but he defies it and says he will live with the consequences. It’s like defying Greek gods.
“But do I believe in fate? There are so many things I feel lucky about but at the same time I’m a hard worker and I don’t like to think I didn’t earn anything in my life.”
But does he believe that certain things are meant to be and certain couples are meant to be together? “In the movie I meet Emily Blunt’s character – I catch the bus I wasn’t supposed to catch, and then the higher powers explain the ground rules. I met a girl I’m not supposed to be with but I’m really smitten with this girl and I feel like we’re really meant to be together.”
Is that how he felt about his wife, it was meant to be? “If there is a plan I’m happy with the plan. I feel they’ve intervened on my behalf in a good way. There’s an incredible series of events that took me to meet my wife. When I think of the impact of Lucy on my life and the kids because of a chance meeting.
“The Farrelly brothers were planning to shoot in Hawaii. At the last minute it changed to Miami. If I hadn’t have been in Miami I would never have met her.”
There’s a scene in the movie where there’s a ‘Do I know you?’ moment. When he meets Emily Blunt for the first time it’s as if he already knows her. Was that like it was with Lucy? Did you feel you already knew her? “Yes, not unlike that. I don’t know if it’s me eight years later reimagining it. But I do definitely remember feeling that way.” He nods savouring the moment. And he looks directly at me. He really lets you in.
What has he learnt from living with so many females? “I’ve learnt that we are a completely different species. If one of my friends brings his son over instantly the boy will start playing with a toy in a different way. They’ll smash it against the wall or do some boy thing that I’ll totally relate to and the girls don’t do that. In terms of discipline my wife’s much better at it. If I had a boy I’d be better at disciplining the boy because I understand boys.
“When my four year old was 18 months she was trying to get a treat out of me. I said no and she asked me again and I caved in, and then my wife came into the room and said ‘Isabella’ and Isabella looked up at her mother, shyly smiled and put her head down and I realised that at 18 months old this creature had total control over me. Then I realised men don’t have a chance. I feel we’re such a different species. I am flummoxed by my female counterpart at 18 months old.”
His mother features heavily in his life. Nancy Carlsson-Paige – is an author and college professor who lectures in child psychology . She instilled in him a strong work ethic and encouraged his political awareness.
“I never knew my parents as a couple. They divorced 38 years ago when I was two. They are strong individuals and both present in my life. My mum’s name comes up a lot because she’s a professor of childhood education and people are always asking me if I’m of my mother’s opinion.”
That said his mother comes over as the stronger character. Does he go for a woman who is strong and can take care of herself? “There was something appealing about my wife and that was she didn’t need me. I love that she’s strong. Strength is a wonderful quality for my daughters to see in the most important woman in their life.
“I expect a lot from my daughters. We’re going to parent them as much as we can and hope they are going to contribute to the community. Our 12-year-old (Alexia is Luciana’s daughter from a previous marriage who he has legally adopted her) is a fantastic writer. But their choices are for them to make. There are plenty of ways to get to heaven.”
Does he think there’s a heaven? “I hope so but there’s no way to know till you go up.”
What’s heaven on earth? “I love to be with my family, I love to be with my friends, I love my job. You have to figure how to make the peace and work with your friends and bring your family. My oldest kid and I have been writing a script together based on an idea she had. We’ll see if it’s something she wants to pursue.”
Are you still hoping to have a boy? “No, I still hope to have a marriage. It’s a whole different energy being surrounded by women. I am getting a new perspective on the world that I would have missed if I’d had boys
Traditionally women are meant to be better at compartmentalizing. Has he found that? “Not true for me and my wife. We are both better at doing one thing at a time. We get lost when we have a bunch of things, although she’s better at staying on top of it. I can only do one project at a time. It causes me a lot of anxiety if I’m under pressure in one particular project because it feels very natural to be working out all the problems of that project. There’s a lot of pressure. The day is costing $500,000 and we have to get through that day. And if you say you have to call some people about this and that I am hopeless.”
It’s hard to imagine him being so anxious – he comes across calm, gentle and grounded How does he keep his own life in the glare of Hollywood?
“It’s about not tying your identity to what the business thinks of you. If I fall off that list again I’ll just do what Ben did and find a project and write. We did it with Good Will Hunting out of nowhere. If you want to panic about what people think of you in Hollywood you’re not going to get anywhere. If you know how to write and tell a story you’ll never be replaced. Ben never panicked and he never demanded any kind of status. He was just one of the guys, I’m not doing this, I’ll do this. And it turns out he is a great director.”
He says he is still hoping to direct one day but hasn’t found the right project yet – and he has not slipped from that list so may not find the time either.
What has he learnt about love in the past ten years? “Well I met my wife so everything. The whole world has opened up.”
What has he learned about clothes? “That my wife should dress me.
What has he learned about directors ? He’s known for having special bonds with people like Clint Eastwood and Paul Greengrass and with wanting work with them as often as possible “That there’s a way to do this job and have fun, enjoy this life and not torture yourself.”
What have you learned about your friends? “That it’s tough to keep up with everyone because we’ve all got families. I’ve learnt that I want to do a better job in my forties than my thirties about being in touch.”
What has he learnt about taking care of himself, health regimes? “I exercise better than I used to. I have trouble cutting out all the food that I like. Now I have to start getting ready for movies by preparing earlier. I love food and lots of it, and wine and beer. I could eat a ten course meal pretty much every night if you let me.
“There’s a great philosopher who on her death bed said she would have done three things differently. She would have been nicer to everybody. She would have cared less about what people thought of her, and would have eaten more ice cream. I don’t want to leave this planet thinking that you could have eaten more ice cream.”

Leonard DiCaprio

The last time I was in a room with Leonard DiCaprio was 2001 and it was his kitchen. I was interviewing his then girlfriend, Brazilian gorgeousness Gisele Bündchen. Her Yorkshire terrier was yapping and she was talking non-stop in a dizzying way with demanding eyes, lavish hair. She was warm, volatile, with a sense of entitlement, and Leo was withdrawn, quiet, perhaps a little lost while he was meticulously chopping in the kitchen. He was making food to take over to a friend’s house and kept saying, “Baby, we’re late.” But Baby carried on talking and demanding empinadas. Gisele and the yorkie were going crazy for the tasty meaty morsels. Leo just kept chopping vegetables.

Eventually Gisele drove me home. Joni Mitchell’s California was playing. We both sang. She told me Leo didn’t do karaoke, but life apart from that, life was great with him. It didn’t surprise me at all when they split up. It seemed like they had nothing in common. Leonardo DiCaprio was one of the most famous and perhaps one of the most beautiful men in the world. He could have anything he wanted. He never behaved in a brattish way of course, but he’s only ever dated supermodels, the current one being Israeli Bar Rafaeli.

Seven years on I’m in another room with him, a slightly smoky room at the Beverly Wilshire where he’s doing interviews to promote Body Of Lies, a hard hitting terrorists versus CIA set in the desert Ridley Scott movie; powerful, layered. He’s in a scruffy battered grey T-shirt, jeans, tall. Supposed to be six foot one but looks taller, perhaps because he’s long limbed, perhaps because one expects movie stars to be Tom Cruise sized. He’s not as chunky as the look he adopted for Gangs Of New York, where he gained 30 lbs and they seemed to stay with him in a gravitas I’m grown up sort of way. But he’s oddly powerful looking. The face is heart-shaped, with that I don’t know if I ever need to shave complexion. He looks older and younger than his 34 years.

His eyes are light, light beams even. They look at you in a penetrating way. Perhaps he’s trying to place me, but his eyes dart away again. If he did remember me from his kitchen, which I’m sure he didn’t, he would have been embarrassed, because that was a different Leo then, a lightweight Leo. I don’t want to embarrass him, so I don’t mention it. Instead he’s extremely polite, smiling, although guarded in an extremely subtle way that allows him to be enthusiastic and never hostile.

Body Of Lies also stars Russell Crowe. The last time they were together was in The Quick And The Dead, when he was only 18. This was pre Titanic when DiCaprio was known for his sensitive artsy portrayals as a retarded boy in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and being beaten up by his cruel stepfather Robert De Niro in This Boy’s Life. “And he had just done Romper Stomper, so we were both very wet behind the ears back then. We were hand picked as two people who had done interesting performances that year. It was our first encounter in being in a big budget film.”

DiCaprio would go on to say how suspicious he became of big budget studio films, but that was after Titanic, which at the time was the biggest budget for a studio film ever and it distorted people’s perception of Leo. He became written off as a cherub faced tragic ruby lipped star that was chased and hounded by teenage girls who might have chased the Jonas Brothers today. His first encounter with Crowe was before they both became ubiquitous.

“He was very cool to me back then and supportive of me as a young actor, and seeing him again after all these years he was still the same guy and he is an even better actor than he was back then. He’s carved out a fantastic career for himself and is known as one of the most committed actors of his generation with some really powerful performances.”

Really, I thought that was you, one of the most committed actors of your generation. He rocks back in his chair and laughs, “Well, you know, people don’t say that sort of thing about themselves.” He’s giggling but part of him knows it’s the truth. He has graduated into heavy weight. Meticulous performances as the obsessive compulsive Howard Hughes in The Aviator (which won him his second Oscar nomination, the first was for Grape) and generally being taken under the wing of Martin Scorsese for Gangs Of New York and The Departed set among the Triads, has earned him gravitas, kudos, applause.

His third Oscar nomination was for Blood Diamond, which he considers a movie which changed things. De Beers certainly had to do some rethinking, and everyone is aware that Leona Lewis doesn’t wear conflict diamonds.

So was the dynamic between you and Crowe the same? Did he still seem mentor? Could he be supportive in the same way? In the film Crowe and DiCaprio are on the same side but at loggerheads with each other and the tension is fascinating.

“It was strange that it hadn’t. It was just like walking into a room 15 years later, even though in 15 years a lot of things have happened to both of us, and a lot of changes have gone on in the world. But I have to say we are both developed as actors, we both have more experience under our belts, and there was a different way in which we conversed in that period and now in terms of arguing our characters points back and forth. I don’t think we did that back then. Not that we didn’t take it seriously, but we never had that type of responsibility that we do now, so yes, I noticed the difference in that regard for sure. I knew he was going to be like that because you can see it up there in the screen in all the work he does. He is very committed.”

He says the word committed as if he treasures that word, as if it is the highest accolade. DiCaprio was of course in the past thoughtful, hyper sensitive even, but through movie choices, taking risks in lower budget movies that were considered failures like The Beach and The Man In The Iron Mask, and the controversial Blood Diamond, and making his own eco statement in The Eleventh Hour, he gets to earn the moniker very committed too. Certainly for Body Of Lies there is no possibility of being a lightweight. It was a long tough shoot shot mostly in the desert. It involved several months in Morocco posing as Jordan.

“I had a very hard shoot, very rough. I’ve done a lot of action sequences before, but this is a Ridley Scott movie. I did a lot of my own stunts, not all of them. You are always moving locations at lightening speed. At any given second Ridley Scott would come in and say, ‘I want a helicopter come in and shoot two missiles and I want that to be on camera and I want to have a surveillance camera 2,000 feet in the air shooting on top of your head’. At some points you really don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s a huge adrenalin rush for you as an actor because you have to be prepared dramatically to have any given scene changed at any moment. It makes you trust your instincts more. It makes you delve deep into yourself. The better you know your character the better you know how he would react in any scenario, and Ridley will throw curveballs constantly. He is editing seven different cameras at the same time and then he’ll say, ‘I don’t believe that. I don’t care how much we’ve talked about this scene, it’s not coming across, so I’m going to change everything’. He’s a very run and gun director. He likes to keep up the pace of a film unlike any director I’ve met. You’d better be prepared for anything. Someone like Scorsese I suppose is a lot more meticulous in the way he sets things up. He’s very specific and take a lot of time with each angle.”

Working with Scott to be much more adrenalin based. The pace of the film is fast and unyielding and there’s one scene where he’s being tortured at the end where I could hardly breathe. “Good,” he exclaims, looking like the cat’s had the cream. “I had a problem with that scene, so I’m glad it worked for you. It’s been written that I had a problem with the dust, but it wasn’t the dust I got sick from, it was that scene. It was a pivotal point in the whole movie. It was make or break.”

The scene in which DiCaprio is caught and tortured is graphic. So real I couldn’t finish looking at it. “If that scene didn’t work it hinged on everything else about the movie and the movie couldn’t sustain itself. I knew it was one of the most important scenes in the movie. We needed to make it important, pertinent and controversial. I spoke to ex-heads of the CIA about what my character would be doing and how he would be handling himself. Because so much hinged on it I had almost a physical breakdown at the end of it. So a lot of what you see on the film is my breaking point. I physically collapsed for a few days after that. Yes, I got sick, but not because of the dust. It was because of the intensity of it.”

One of the themes of the movie is truth. Who you trust. Who you tell the truth to. Who you give a version of the truth. And who you lie to. So, who would he lie to and why? “Intrinsically an organisation like the CIA relies on secrecy. It is about covert operations, so we’re doing a movie about modern day CIA operations and practises. I think we got as close as we could get on how the United States operates on this war of terror.”

He makes no attempt to answer this question as a personal one. But the answer is long and articulate and important. It makes it difficult to interrupt. The theme that you cannot trust terrorists and that you also cannot trust Americans.

“That is very symbolic of the truth. You have this character that is in a deceitful world trying to catch the enemy that he could never trust. But it is a dirty ugly war. He’s trying to hold on to a semblance of morality and a belief in his country while his country is letting him down simultaneously, and ironically he’s starting to trust people that are while not exactly the enemy, but aren’t the people he’s beholden to. You have to start thinking out of the box. He starts to question his patriotism, what he stands for morally. This character is not somebody who is either good or bad. He is trying to hold on to a certain belief system that is lost.”

And then you realise that he probably is talking about himself. When you ask him about Bush or Palin he is not at all equivocal. His anti-Palin rants are legendary. He says simply, “I hope that Barak Obama wins because I haven’t been happy with the last eight years and that has been reflected in the polls. It is not secret that the Bush administration and the way they handled not only the war on terror but everything else has only a ten per cent approval rating. So yes, I can only hope for Barak Obama. For a brilliant mind to come in and change everything. It is a scary world that the United States has ventured into. And Barak Obama can come in and set this country on a different course.”

You get the impression that while many Hollywood stars might sell a photo of their baby and sell its proceeds for an eco charity, might at the same time enjoy a film studio’s Lear jet to be at their personal disposal, you can’t fault Leo or his eco credentials. He drives what he calls a golf cart car, a Prius, and made the eco movie The Eleventh Hour, an extensively detailed documentary about our planet in crisis. He cares “about human beings regarding this planet as a service station, but the earth should be cherished for future generations.” He is at the helm of two diametrically opposed worlds; the greed, instant gratification and materialism of Hollywood and the impassioned environmentalist. But he pulls it off and he’s good at it. For instance he once stole a journalist’s tape recorder just after they’d both ordered lunch but when the hack went to make a phone call and he babbled on to it that he shouldn’t be eating hamburgers, even though he himself had ordered one, because the methane gas cows release is the number one contributor to the ozone layer. But you can’t have tuna either because the nets capture innocent little dolphins. He was being jokey but serious at the same time. He doesn’t mean it to preach. He meant to be quite gentle in his earnestness. As well as all this he has remnants of Hollywood bad boy that liked to throw horse shit at Italian paparazzi, hang out in after hours bars with gaggles of models wearing tiny outfits. The contradictions all work to make him human. That’s why he relished the idea of playing a character that was neither a hero or a villain.

He laughs. “Of course it was so much easier to play someone caught in a moral web, who tries to manipulate people as best he can, but he knows he is also being manipulated. He goes on a personal journey where he realises that he is not part of any specific nationality any more. It’s not about nationality. It’s about what’s right or wrong for him.

“When you are given an opportunity to make a film about what’s very much on the consciousness of the general public, like Body Of Lies, and I would put Blood Diamond in the same category, of course you jump at these opportunities. Blood Diamond shed a different light on the diamond trade.”

I would like to think, as Leo believes, that Body Of Lies, would shed a different light upon the war on terror. It came out in the US already in a very bad week that involved the Wall Street crash and had to settle for third place in the movie charts where the box office was topped with Beverly Hills Chihuahua. In a crisis people don’t see why there’s a crisis, they want to escape it. Quarantine, a cheaply made horror film was in second place. Still DiCaprio argues gamely, “I know historically at some point in time we are going to look back at this type of movie and it will reflect the period and make people really think what was going on in that time period.”

Ridley Scott, for all his nuanced multi-layered brilliance, is not in vogue at the moment. One imagines that DiCaprio will have greater success with Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road which reunites him with Kate Winslet but without the Celine Dion soundtrack and gallons of water. It is a haunting, gnawing movie derived from the novel by Richard Yates. It is set in the mid Fifties, post World War II, but pre Mad Men. The revolution was a long way off. Winslet and DiCaprio’s relationship is sour, thwarted, spiralling. They play a young married couple, Frank and April Wheeler, who find themselves trapped in suburbia, trapped by the social confines of their lives, of their time. Frank Wheeler is a man with a meaningless job who has lost his nerve and lost his way. April – Winslet – is a trapped housewife, homemaker, who wants to go to Paris and be bohemian, but finds herself pregnant with a third baby.

It resonates with DiCaprio because “What is the American dream supposed to be? And how similar are we now to that era in a lot of ways? It’s about two people going crazy in that kind of environment. Being stripped of their identity and feeling they are living a life of cliches. What gravitates me towards it was that it’s very reflected of the United States moral position in the 1950s and this is where we still hinge ourselves morally, how we view our family, our fundamentals, and also I am a huge fan of Kate and Sam.”

He seems already uneasy that working with Kate again conjures up Titanic. After Titanic his life changed. He couldn’t go out without a million girls chasing him screaming. He hated that effect. He turned down everything big box office after it. Said no Anakin Skywalker, American Psycho, Heath Ledger’s part in The Patriot, and Spiderman which turned his best friend Tobey Maguire into a star. He feared it.

“It was never my intention to have my image shown around the world.” Or barbers in Afghanistan arrested as they enraged the Taliban by offering a Leo DiCaprio style haircut labelled ‘The Titanic’. When he was travelling through Europe, at the airport in Paris, a teenager grabbed his leg and pressed her head into it, clutching desperately as if she were about to sink her teeth into it. He would say, “What are you doing sweetheart?” And he looked at her and tried to grab her face trying to tell her if she would get off his leg he would talk to her, but she wouldn’t leave and the incident horrified him and left him marked. He wanted to be an actor, not a celebrity. He didn’t do any movies at all for a couple of years because he was said to be suffering from ‘post-Titanic distress syndrome’. The kind of fame where everyone wants to talk to you but nobody wants to listen to what you’ve got to say.

“The moves that I’m doing now are the movies that I’ve always wanted to do. If when I was younger I’d had these opportunities I’d have done them in a heartbeat. But you don’t always get the opportunity to make films that you have a kinship to when you’re starting off. I took some time off after Titanic because I needed to let the dust settle so to speak and recharge my battery. I felt OK, I’ve been given a tremendous opportunity, what are you going to do with it? Now your name can finance movies that you do want to do. That wasn’t something that I wanted to squander. I wanted to wait until I felt I could really contribute something that had the kind of edge that I’d always been looking for since I started.” Although these films might have had edge without box office, the combined effect was to make Leo an almost impossible combination, an edgy Hollywood star. “Of course after Titanic there were a lot of offers of films like that, but it was very easy to turn those movies down.”

His character in Revolutionary Road might be his best bet for an Oscar win yet. He seems to light up when he talks about his darkness. “It’s a film about the disintegration of a relationship. We’re putting a smile on our face and doing all the things you should be doing in a loving relationship, but the darker side is taking over. It’s people who are holding on to their love in circumstances that are ripping apart. I’m more attracted to doing that sort of thing these days because things in this world they aren’t easy, they’re very complicated.”

You wonder if his relationship with Bar Rafaeli is uncomplicated. He is a scorpio with libra rising. “That means I’m trying to balance the passionate dark insane parts of scorpio the best I can, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job.”

DiCaprio started off strangely shy around women. He says, “I’ve always been a slow starter. My first date was with a girl called Cessi. We had a beautiful relationship over the phone all summer and then when we met I couldn’t look her in the eye.” He doesn’t seem to look many people in the eye directly for long, but that hasn’t stopped him romancing Kate Moss, Helena Christensen, Eva Herzigova, and Amber Valletta.

He says that he would love to have a wife he feels comfortable with. He says that he wants a kid “someday”. We have to skirt borders very carefully when talking about intimate things. There’s never a froideur that comes up, but you know he doesn’t want to be defined by his relationships with supermodels. For a long time he would take his mum to premieres instead of an inamorata. He’s never liked to talk about his girlfriends, be pictured with them, or give tantalising details away because that would feed the paparazzi, who have made him miserable. Instead he’s one of those actors who feels, “Defining yourself to the public on a consistent basis is death to a performer. The more you define who you are personally the less you are able to submerge into the characters you do and people will think I don’t buy him in that role.”

Instead the image we have of him is amorphic, a bad boy superhero, soulful but likes to party, committed to his work but not necessarily to his long-term girlfriends. He once said his ideal wife would be one who was independent, who wouldn’t mind if he went off to Alaska at a moment’s notice with his friends. Robert De Niro is his friend. Not the kind of hanging out with friend, but the friend who recommended him to Martin Scorsese. “I was humbled by that. De Niro/Scorsese is my generation’s choice of greatest actor director dynamic. It is to the previous ones Brando/Kazan.” He has completed three movies with Scorsese, Gangs of New York, Aviator, Departed, and is about to start a fourth, Shutter Island. They are muse and mentor. “I have so much respect for him. Who doesn’t, you know?”

Scorsese had to wait years for his Oscar. Does he himself mind missing out three times? “I would say this. I have a theory. We all have our personal choices of who we think should win, but there are certain times you look back at the movie that won that year and you think how was that humanly possible?”

Sometimes people get the Oscar for the wrong movie. They get it because the Academy was guilty because they recognised they gave it to the wrong person last year. ‘Yes, but the Academy is about recognising someone who is deservant (sic) or not. I am not feverishly hunting one down. I am trying to do the best work I possibly can and making movies that will have resonance for years to come. I think you can never dictate what you want people to think. If you control that you lose connection from the audience. I think if you try for an Oscar or a goal like that, the more people are going to see it as transparent. It’s not on my radar. If it happens great, but I’m happy to continue working as I am, really.”

He is happy being an active person. “Life’s too short to be lazy and passive and I don’t like to stay in one environment for too long and get set in one way of thinking. I love to travel, get involved in different environmental projects. Stimulate myself. I couldn’t be more miserable when I don’t have anything to engage in.”

It’s been written that you like to be on your own a lot. “No. I think I’m more of a people person.” Is it true that you have the same set of about ten really good friends that you grew up with because you don’t need new friends and never lose old ones? “Mm,” he considers. “I suppose, yes. I do have about ten really good friends. But the fact I don’t have new ones is not true.”

He was born on November 11th, 1974 in East Hollywood. His mother, German born Irmelin, split from his father George, a comic book artist, when their son was about a year old. His father, a Hollywood bohemian, has had a distinctive influence on his mind and career, to always think out of the box. His father was part of the underground comic book scene and hippie movement. He was acquaintances with Charles Bukowski. He still has friends from his childhood. “It’s true that you don’t necessarily know who to trust. People who are celebrities are shrouded in mystery. You don’t know if they’re good people or not. Generally, people in the arts are good people. When you work on movies you go, what’s that actor like? This is my opinion of them. I am almost always proven wrong. You realise they are completely normal people. You hear horror stories of people’s reputations. You think they might be arrogant or self-righteous. But the majority of people I’ve met who do movies are not. They are conscious people who don’t have this side that the public attach on to them. Jack Nicholson said, ‘By the very nature of being well know you meet more people in an average week’. Because you are constantly having interactions with people in that regard it makes you hold on to the people you know and trust. But at the same time I try to keep an open mind because there are a lot of fascinating people out there. Being an environmentalist and also doing this business opens me up to entirely different worlds and I love to juggle those things.” So it seems there are two entirely contradicting Leo: shy, untrusting circumspect Leo and gregarious up for anything. He’s been careful to display both so I’ll never pin him down as one or the other. He’s answered everything, but not very exactly. But he’s played a perfect game. He keeps you smiling and he’s laughing even. He doesn’t let you get too close but he doesn’t let you notice the distance.

Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez is in a simple dress, long bare legs outstretched in front of her. Her voice is creaky with a chest infection, her eyes bleary. But her work ethic is as strong as it was back in the Bronx days she immortalised in her 2001 hit ‘Jenny From the Block’. It’s been a long time – and many blocks – since the tough, determined girl born to Puerto Rican parents danced her way around Manhattan as a backing singer for the likes of Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul, and there seem to have been many Jennys since then too.

We are in a sunny Beverly Hills hotel room. It is not a suite. There are no Diptyque candles. And the thread count on the bed linen is probably not more than 420. It certainly doesn’t meet the stipulations she was alleged to have demanded of her accommodation when she was J Lo the diva, who routinely rode in Bentley convertibles with her fiancé Ben Affleck, or went to gangsta-style clubs with her partner of two and a half years Sean Combs (P Diddy), and was chased by paparazzi.

Life is quieter now, with her husband of five years, Latin singer Marc Anthony, and two-year-old twins Emme and Max, but it’s certainly not simpler.

‘I just did two 24-hour flights back to back for a party in Kazakhstan that I had to perform at.’ Was it worth it? ‘I wouldn’t have gone otherwise. Totally.’ The result is that she’s feeling exhausted and fluey, but she’s a trouper. She’s known worse (such as the trauma of cancelling her wedding to Ben Affleck hours before it was due to take place in 2003).

Her life has certainly changed pace. And her new movie The Back-Up Plan reflects that. It’s about a woman who decides that she doesn’t want to miss out on having children even though she doesn’t have a boyfriend. So she plans to have IVF and a baby on her own, and on the same day as the treatment she meets a man with the kind of romantic possibilities that she’d given up on. They fall in love and everything happens in reverse. Instead of romance, proposal, marriage, baby, it’s – she’s already pregnant with somebody else’s baby, then romance, then relationship.

The movie is cutting-edge funny and a return to form for Jennifer. ‘It couldn’t be more perfect,’ she says, ‘the whole idea, in a romantic comedy, that the pregnancy is the obstacle. It’s always, “Oh, my boyfriend can’t commit, I can’t commit, I’m in love with my best friend.” But this story seemed to me to be about a real problem. “Are you going to take on this child? Is it OK to ask somebody to do that?”

Does she think she would have used IVF to get pregnant if she hadn’t met the right man? She shakes her head. ‘It takes a lot of bravery to have a child on your own. I have a girlfriend who did it and I really admire her. Especially knowing how much help you need. It’s a lot to be a working mum and think, I’m OK on my own. I would like to think that I’m strong enough to do that, but honestly, I don’t know if I could.’ Several aspects of pregnancy come across.

In the movie she gets pregnant with twins – how much like real life is that? ‘Well, that’s very real life. I loved it. The woman who wrote it had just gone through a pregnancy, so it was all very fresh in her mind. And it was very fresh for me – the twins were about a year old.’

Several aspects of pregnancy come across in the movie as funny, gross, horrendous, embarrassing. Were they aspects she related to? ‘All of it. I wanted to put as much in as we could that was real: the overeating, the burping. Why not? It’s funny too. Pregnancy and giving birth are weird, strange. The growing life inside you – it’s like an invasion of the body snatchers.’

Jennifer did not have IVF herself. ‘A lot of people thought I did because I had twins, but what they don’t realise is that when you are over 35 the chance of twins increases, especially if they are in your family, and they are in mine. I was 37 when I got pregnant, so I had both factors going on.’ She knew she was having twins at seven weeks. ‘I didn’t believe I was pregnant, even though I had taken a pregnancy test. The plus sign didn’t look dark enough and I kept thinking that maybe it wasn’t a good test, so I called the doctor, who said I should come in and check. And then she said, “Oh, it looks like you’re having twins.” It was a big shock.’

But also a joy. Jennifer had been broody for years. Almost as soon as she got together with Marc (in 2004, a few months after the broken engagement with Affleck and after Marc’s separation from his first wife, former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres), she realised that their relationship was more bonded and grounded than previous affairs; they came from a similar place, both in touch with their Latin roots. The turbulence that had defined her love life with Affleck and Combs gave way to something else. She had already been married twice, first in 1997 to waiter Ojani Noa (an 11-month marriage that was eclipsed by her huge success with George Clooney in Out of Sight) and then in 2001 to dancer Cris Judd, whom she hoped would provide her with the mix of stability and edge she needed (they divorced in 2003, after Jennifer got involved with Affleck). But with Marc, she says, ‘it was the type of relationship that you dream about. You get to the point where you realise what’s real and what you are imagining to be there. It takes a lot of looking and getting past the disappointments.’ With Marc it seemed right to start a family.

How has she changed since becoming a mother? ‘I think it calms you down a little bit, even though you have less sleep. Everything is at hyper speed, which puts things into perspective: this is important, this is not important, this is something that can wait, this is something I need to take care of. You speed up your decision-making process and you prioritise in a different way.’ Jennifer redefined the way women think about their curves by never being afraid to display her tiny waist and wide, full derrière. She was used to having a dancer’s body – flexible, toned, sculpted. Losing that must have been difficult. ‘Yeah, I do remember distinctly when you don’t fit into your clothes any more. At first it’s cute when you have a little bump. You wear big sweaters. Then one day your jeans don’t fit and you think, oh no, it’s happening. I was on tour until I was six months pregnant, so I didn’t grow the way I would have if I had been sitting at home, but once I was just sitting around, that’s when I got really big.’ How long did it take her to get her body back afterwards? ‘A while, a year. Six months afterwards, I did the Nautica Malibu triathlon and I was still 16lb overweight. Over the next six months I got it back.’ Was there a strict regime? ‘No. I don’t get too crazy any more. There was a time when I really worked out, but I was never manic about it. I did what I could. I’ve got good genes. But I care less now.’

In the movie, her character Zoe craves junk food all the time. ‘I’m not a junk food person. I like food, though. And you do feel very hungry. Your body is asking for food. The baby is asking for food. It’s like a factory. That’s why I made the decision when I was eight months pregnant to do the triathlon after I had the babies. I wanted to know I was the same person as before I had them. I wanted to be that person more than ever for my babies. I wanted them to be proud of me. I wanted them to think, “I’ve got a special mum, she was amazing, look what she did!” I didn’t want to lose my ambition and drive to do amazing things.’

She always defined who she was by how hard she could work and how much she could love. How does she still work so hard and fit that in with the demands of motherhood? ‘I want to be the best at that too. I want to just do it all. When we travel we travel with the babies. I try to rehearse in the house. I’ve adjusted my life so that I can spend as much time with them there. I’m lucky to have that luxury so I’m going to use it to the fullest.’

Is she ready for another baby yet? ‘No. I think I just need to work right now. I do want another baby, because once you have one you realise what a blessing it is; what an amazing miracle and how much they enrich your life. But you still have to be an individual.’

Do the twins have a special connection? ‘They do. Max is always climbing out of his cot to get in Emme’s. But then they fight like cat and dog. And I’ve figured out the difference between men and women by seeing their innate characteristics. She is very careful, and you can see her thinking; men don’t think, they attack and deal with the consequences. We approach life and love in different ways.’

‘He is still that, and I’m the biggest challenge that he’s ever had to deal with, and that’s what keeps it interesting for us both. John Cassavetes [the director and actor] once said that he and Gena Rowlands battled their whole marriage. There was an intensity in their relationship. He said that in some ways they both knew that if the battle was over the.

Her own love life used to be like a roller coaster – enormous highs of passion with lows of betrayal. How does that translate into her relationship with Marc? Did she suddenly settle and find that stability suited her?

‘For all the stability we provide for each other, Marc and I are both artists. We both like intensity. We are both very passionate, and that still exists in our relationship. If we didn’t have that it would be boring. Too boring for me.’

She once told me that her perfect type of man was not a straightforward bad boy but a boy who was a perfect mixture of hard and soft. A little bit stubborn, a little bit of a challenge; you had to work to get to the sweet bit. Does Marc fit into that ideal? Is he still that? Hard and soft? relationship was over. They cared enough to battle.

‘People seem to think that when there’s conflict in a relationship it’s always a bad thing, but I think you need a challenge. The dynamic between us is passionate and that’s why it works. We are compatible, but at the same time we are different enough to make it interesting.’

I tell her that I’ve read a couple of stories recently that said they are different enough to be splitting up. Has she read those? ‘Of course. It doesn’t really matter to me. We know what’s true.’

Jennifer’s relationship with fame has completely changed since the early days. She used to think success equalled fame, which meant a constant accompaniment of paparazzi and tabloid fever. Then she realised artistic credibility came from getting on with it and headlines didn’t make a relationship work. But she’s used to controversy, to stories spiralling out of control, and seems pretty unflustered by it.

She hasn’t read the story about her first husband selling their wedding photos, she says (although there have been reports in the press that she’s suing him over it). ‘Somebody asked me about it recently but I didn’t see it. I’m not in touch with him at all.’ Is that your decision or his? ‘It’s just your life goes into different chapters. It’s like the first grade. You just get past it.’

What she doesn’t want to get past is the experience of love. All the different kinds of love she’s had – fierce, warm, treacherous; how to keep love going; how to stub it out if it’s bad. ‘I’m putting all that into a new album called Love?, because I still find love very confusing and challenging. I also feel it’s time to open up the dialogue about what that word ‘love’ means, what do people do in love? Should we have better standards in love, [agree that] it’s not OK to be dishonest, to cheat, or be pointlessly cruel?’

Isn’t it becoming more and more difficult to juggle children, acting, music? Does she feel she should decide to go in one direction?

‘Oh no, I’m not ready to do that.’ What about the crop of new girls that are storming the charts – does she feel threatened by them? ‘No, I love all the girls out there now – Beyoncé, Rihanna, Carrie Underwood, Pink – all of them. I don’t feel in competition with them. I just want to be me. And that’s always been good enough.’

Was reaching 40 last year a watershed birthday? ‘It was the best party of my life and the best year so far.’ So she doesn’t worry about body parts moving in the wrong direction? ‘Not yet.

Somebody told me 45 is when that stuff happens. So maybe I can hold on for a while.’ What she’s really holding on for at the moment is a small part on the hit TV show Glee. ‘I’d just like to do an appearance because I love the show so much. It’s one of my favourites.’ But as well as her new movie, her new album and her ambitions for television, her social life in Miami is pretty full-on. Her husband owns part of the Miami Dolphins American football team, and they are also soccer fans and friendly with the Beckhams. Victoria commented recently that they were the same dress size. Jennifer’s eyes widen in shock at this. ‘I don’t think I could fit into her dresses. She’s a tiny thing,’ she says. ‘But she could certainly fit into mine.’


Jennifer Lopez


Helen Mirren

There is no doubt about it. Helen Mirren has a simmering sexual presence. Hot and cold, withdrawn and flirty, disciplined and out of control. She tells me when we meet in her hotel suite she’s just eaten eight croissants. She says it as if she’s rather impressed with herself. She says it without guilt, but kind of licking her lips.

I’d just seen her in the children’s adventure movie Inkheart. It’s about what happens when you have the ability to make characters from books come to life. She plays an eccentric aunt who rides a motorcycle very fast. Lady Godiva hair swirling in the breeze. She says she took the part for that bike ride.

Was it hard to learn to ride it? She looked extremely comfortable on it. “Well I didn’t have to learn because I already had a motorbike when I was in my early twenties. So I thought I don’t care what else happens, I want to be on that motorbike again.” What happened to your own motorbike? “Mm, it was a bit of a disaster. I got it when I was in Stratford because I needed transport and I thought it would be cool, and also cheap, because I couldn’t afford a car. But it wasn’t cheap because you have to buy all the clothes.”

You imagine Mirren in her leathers. Striking. “The major problem was when you stop at a light you can’t balance, so you have to put one foot down and hold the bike up.” She stands up and straddles as if riding a bike to demonstrate. She’s wearing a cotton suit in milky beige and a white T-shirt. As she bends down the skirt stretches over her bottom and thigh. Extremely tight.

“I wasn’t strong enough, so every traffic light I would absolutely topple over. I had it for three or four months and thought, this is not working out. But on the movie set I could just go and stop and someone would hold up the bike. It was lovely.”

Since her Oscar she has worked steadily and variably, thus avoiding the Halle Berry curse of Oscar – everything you take on flops and your career backtracks. She was twice Tony nominated for plays on Broadway; for Turgenev’s A Month In The Country in 1995 and with Sir Ian McKellen in Strindberg’s Dance Of Death in 2002. Is now about to start filming The Tempest. Reconnected with her Russian roots doing Michael Hoffman’s The Last Station about Tolstoy’s last days with Christopher Plummer. And she’s been working with her husband, director Taylor Hackford (Officer And A Gentleman, and Oscar nominated Ray). Lots of zig-zagging the planet. I tell her I’ve just arrived from Los Angeles. She wants me to have a croissant. “Because when you’re jet lagged you feel entitled to absolutely anything, don’t you.”

She wants to know why I live in Los Angeles and London. She wants to ask me many questions. Not as an aversion technique as some interviewees enjoy rather than talking about themselves, but because she seems curious. engaged, alert, curious. “My husband’s film is called Love Ranch. It’s a brothel in Nevada in the Seventies,” she says with a glint, an ever so tiny glint, but nonetheless a perceptible glint of naughtiness in her eye.

Are you a madam? “Yes, of course. I’m not one of the old girls,” she laughs. Well you might be, I say, knowing very many people who would definitely pay to have sex with her. “Although they do it for a long time and funny enough the older prostitutes are the most popular.” Because they are experienced? “No, it’s because the guys think they are user friendly. They are comfortable with them so they don’t feel intimidated. And guys who go to brothels are obviously not the most successful guys in the world sexually, so that’s what they need. It’s all about not being intimidated,” she says managing to seem intimidating and inviting all at once.

I don’t think she was born this much of a sexual being. I think she earned it with confidence, with wit, with intelligence. You look at her face. It’s so animated. You see her feeling everything. Sure there are lines, but it’s not the lines you notice. It’s not the age, which is 63. You just think she’s hot and not hot for her age.

Was it fun to work with your husband? “It was lovely to go home at night and be with my husband,” she corrects. “Working with him I have to say was not easy. My husband in work mode is not the easiest of people, although a lot of people absolutely adore working with him. But because I have the emotional connection with him I would get upset if he was shouting, not at me, but at someone else demanding something. I would be seeing it from their point of view. I would find myself rushing around trying to mop up after him.” Then she backtracks and contradicts herself as she is prone to do. “But it was great. I love the fact that he got the film together and he created a wonderful role for me. But you know, husbands and wives don’t need to work together. We are professional people in our own worlds. There’s nothing I love more than going to my husband’s set and being his wife. But this, it mixes the roles up. It either gets too cosy, which is not a good thing, because it’s not very creative. Or it gets the opposite…” Which sounds like it was with you. “Yes. He didn’t make me cry, but he made me very cross.”

Perhaps the secret of their longevity was the fact they hadn’t worked together since 1986 when they met on the set of White Knights. Mirren once told me it was because they came together late, as fully formed people. They eventually married in the Scottish Highlands in December 1997. “We came to each other grown-up, professionally formed. I was in my late thirties and I just so aligned to him. We were generous to each other and loyal in terms of each other’s work.”

Before that she had intoxicating love affairs with photographer James Wedge, who liked to experiment with sexuality in his images, and actors Nicol Williamson and Liam Neeson. The latter told me how much he adored her because she taught him sophistication and how to eat prawns. There’s only a hint that she wasn’t always as well put together as she seems today.

She says she cries easily when it’s with pleasure. We both cried at the Inkheart movie’s happy ending. “I always cry at peculiar times. For example, I weep openly if I see a parade, or people marching down the middle of the road, especially if they’re dressed up in their best. I think it’s because they’re trying so hard. Spelling Bees make me cry. Marching bands with drums, I’m in bits. The Olympics made me cry.” She puzzles, “Isn’t that strange?”

What is also strange is the fact after the year that she collected her Emmy for playing Det.Supt. Jane Tennison in stripper shoes and a Marilyn dress, her Golden Globe and Oscar for her emotionally hemmed in performance of The Queen, is that she should want to follow it with a children’s movie and play an aunt who doesn’t really like children. Is that like her? Does she like children?

“I’ve never been hugely maternal, but I’ve always loved children as an aunt, a naughty aunt. I’m very happy to be able to give children back to their parents… Not that I’ve actually ever been alone with them.” She’s never wanted to have children of her own. She decided that when she saw a movie at convent school when she was about 13 of a woman giving birth. “Out of our whole class there must have been more than me who was traumatised by it. To this day it was horrific and it gave me an absolute horror of childbirth. We had no mention of sex in my school, even in biology. They just avoided that subject. So they herded us all together into a room with other girls the same age, and boys, and this dykey woman in tweeds and short grey hair said, ‘What you are about to see is a miracle’. And this film starts and it’s a midwives instructional film. There was no sound, just the camera going whirrrr, and words would come up at the bottom: Now prepare the rubber sheet. The lights came up at the end and every kid was white and sick and silent. The boys couldn’t look at the girls and the girls couldn’t look at the boys.”

So there it was, a pivotal moment in the young Helen’s life. She was destined never to be a mother and never to mind about it. I wonder if this adds to her particular kind of sexual omniverousness. I tell her that my boxing trainer, who used to be in the Army, used to have her picture as a pin up, as did several of his soldier mates. He said, ‘Everybody in the army fancied her. We all had posters up because the thing about her, even though she was older, she was never going to be your mum.’ She laughs fulsomely and then says, “But this must have been years ago?” Yes, but he still fancies you. “Oh, fabulous. And he’s absolutely right. I was never going to be anyone’s mum or grandmother. But you know I can dig that beautiful earth mother thing, feeding the masses. I’m thinking of Nigella Lawson. Does she have children?” She does. “Do you know what I mean. She’s sort of gorgeously fertile. I think that’s sexy.”

Mirren is looking at me in an intriguing and intrigued way. And I ask her, have you ever done girl on girl, had a lesbian thing? “I actually won my first Emmy for something called Losing Chase. Kyra Sedgwick and me fell in love with each other, and it was a lovely piece about women loving women.” Was it a stretch? “What, for me to love a woman? No, because I do love women. In my heart of hearts I love women more than I love men. I mean, sexuality aside, I am heterosexual.” Then she pauses to rewind. “I guess I’m heterosexual. I loved my friend that I had at college because there was a sense of camaraderie and physical closeness that doesn’t have to be sexual.”

I wonder, Mirren is quite a tease. In her last interview she talked about how much she liked to take cocaine at parties. Only stopped when she realised that Klaus Barbie was living off the proceeds of others who made their money from cocaine in South America. Then she told Piers Morgan in GQ that she’d been raped and never bothered to report it. I wonder why she’s now telling me she loves women, but telling me in such a naughty way. I tell her that I’m glad she loves women. “In general more than men.” But I was reading one of her interviews where she had requested that the interview be with a man because she gets on better with men. Was that true then? Did she change her mind?

“Well, it was a man who did the interview.” Perhaps he just wanted to believe that? “No, I think it’s more that I prefer male journalists because there’s a streak of female journalism – the bitches – I have no idea whether you are part of this particular movement. This bitchy mean-spirited and nasty because you are another woman and want to make you feel crap. It’s very upsetting. I must say I’m more careful when I’m being interviewed by a woman because I know from experience as well as reading articles with other women I know there is a little stiletto knife hidden behind the back.” She’s laughing as she’s sizing me up. But I think she’s right. On the whole women don’t like other women because women are more competitive with each other than men. It’s all about having the best shoes, the best boy, the smallest size of jeans.

She says, “If there was a rape case the courts in defence of a man would select as many women as they can for the jury because women go against women. Whether in a deep-seated animalistic way, coming back billions of years, that sense of tribal jealousy or just antagonism, I don’t know. But other women on a rape case would say she was asking for it. The only reason I would think of is that they were sexually jealous.”

We’ve gone from loving women to hating women in just a few seconds. But that only makes me like her more. And I reveal to her that I used to have a recurring dream that I was in a court explaining that I’d been raped and dykey woman of the jury were saying it was my fault. “Yes. That is terribly unfair. And that used to happen, didn’t it, in those days.” She says this with concern and perhaps even empathy. She’s said in the past that when she was forced to have sex against her will it was the lethal result of a combination of feminism, not wanting to be victim, and innocence of not knowing how not to be a victim. She has said that it wasn’t about just saying no because the man wouldn’t take no for an answer. When you see Mirren as vulnerable, it skews your judgement of her and you understand all those layers of confidence that have appeared over the years and how they could be torn away very quickly.

Did she learn to be more confrontational and direct with people? “No, I am not confrontational at all. I think I met a great guy and then I met another great guy, and had a series of fantastic relationships with nice men.” And that cured you from the bad boys who disrespected you? “Yes. Up until that point I was thinking that men were horrible, all horrible; they were boring, boorish, vulgar, they were unplesant, they were selfish and arrogant and prices. And then I met a guy who was funny and lovely to me and I loved him. That was Ken, my first boyfriend. I learnt from wonderful men, wonderful relationships. They gave me support and made me feel good and they made me laugh. And now I think men are absolutely great.”

Do you think your early experience of feeling so antipathetic towards men is that you didn’t know very many because you went to an all girls school? “Yes, absolutely. And the generation I grew up in. But I don’t blame it. But I was 18 years old, suddenly in London, and I’d never been out past 11 o’clock at night before. I never thought I will never have sex till I get married because I never wanted to get married. So sex was on the cards but I wanted it to be incredibly romantic. I decided it had to be snowing.” And was it? “No, of course not. It was probably a disgusting rainy night, but I can’t remember.”

Was it with some random boy? “Yes.” Did you ever see him again? “I don’t want to talk about that. Sorry.” Suddenly the air is thick with imaginary needles of pain. What did you learn from that experience? “I didn’t learn anything. I learn from the positive not from the negative, but I do believe in getting on with it, taking responsibility for yourself and not blaming other people is an incredibly important thing.” This is key to Mirren’s mystical sexuality. She can be vulnerable, but she’s never going to be the victim. That is extremely attractive.

“But I’m not particularly competent actually in terms of answering phone calls, getting things done. I put on a good game. So to people like you I look incredibly self-confident and on top of everything.” You mean you are acting? “Yes, kind of.” You are acting in this interview? “Kind of. Sometimes I blow it. I’m certainly incredibly vulnerable as far as my career is concerned. I’m full of self doubt.” But you’ve got an Oscar now. Surely that says don’t doubt it. “It doesn’t stop you getting up and having to do it again.”

Suddenly I notice her tattoo, a little naive star on her hand. She did it on impulse in an Indian reservation in Minnesota. “Many years ago. I just wanted the tattoo and I was a bit of a bohemian. I got it at a time when women did not have tattoos. Now girls are covered in them, like Amy Winehouse.”

The tattoo is not particularly pretty, but it’s a symbol of her going against the grain and a kind of fearlessness despite the self-doubt. A psychic once told heer she wouldn’t have success till her fifties, which absolutely devastated her at the time. She was born and brought up in Southend-on-Sea. She was the daughter of a taxi driver whose father had come as an emissary from Russia to buy arms during the Russo-Japanese War in 1917. He was unable to return home because the Bolshevik revolution had started. The Bolsheviks confiscated the family’s estate and he was to be forever separated from his seven sisters who remained in drastically reduced circumstances. Her Russian name that she was born with is Ilyena Vasilievna Mironov. She made an emotional pilgramage last year to the family’s old estate in Russia and the family Gzhatsk near the city of Smolensk, 250 miles west of Moscow, and she’s always had a passion for Russian roles. Her recent Tolstoy story being particularly resonant.

In the beginning of her career she felt marginalised by being blonde and big breasted. She felt dismissed. Perhaps that’s why she could play the frumpy queen and the tired Det. Supt. Tennison so comfortably. She knew she wasn’t just about that and she was confident of her own sexiness anyway, she didn’t a role to prop up her sexuality, although she played plenty of those sirens too. She’s been Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth and naked a slew of times, notably in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover, and then in Calendar Girls.

“As you get older naked stuff gets easier because it’s more to do with the role than what the men in the audience are thinking. There’s a liberation about it.

You imagine to be so confident about her body she is extremely attentive with workouts and healthy regimes. “No, I’m very lazy. I go through phases of exercising. You know, if you start getting puffy when you go upstairs I will force myself back into minimalistic exercise. I am a great believer in the Canadian Air Force exercises because they only take 15 minutes.”

How do you feel that the world loves you in your bikini? “I feel very lucky. I looked at those pictures and thought, ‘I wish I looked like that’ because I don’t look like that at all, they’d just been taken at a great angle. The next day I started exercising because I thought if I exercise maybe I’ll look like that.”

Have you ever felt the pressure to look a certain way for a part? “No, but I’ve done it to myself. I mean, actors are always on a diet. It’s lovely to get a great role. Then you think, oh, I’ve got to go on a diet. My whole life I’ve basically gone backwards and forwards the same 10lbs. I can wear clothes from 20 years ago. At my thinnest I’m a couple of pounds under nine stone, and at my fattest I’m a few pounds under ten stone. I’ve gone through many diets that are also very boring. You stop eating and that’s what makes you lose weight, not eating. But as you get older, losing weight doesn’t make your body look better, don’t you think.” I tell her I’ve never been a few pounds under weight, so I wouldn’t know. Then she tells me that I’m gorgeous. And then I say no, and then she says “Yes,” and then I’m embarrassed and change the subject to Russell Brand who is the latest younger boy to talk about how much he fancies her.

“I don’t know if I fancy him. I haven’t met him yet. I’ll decide when I do. Talent is sexy. I love that alertness. I think Frank Skinner has it, and Jonathan Ross and has it, and they are a little bit radical. I love those guys, and Russell Brand is definitely one of them.” So she concedes she might fancy him.

All the men that have been in her life have had one link. “They have all loved boxing. So through various men I have watched a lot of boxing. I do love the human drama of it.” When she’s not talking about working with Hackford she talks softly about him. She talks about building things, like their flat in New York, and like,. “The ruin we are renovating in Italy. It’s going to take up all of our spare time until we are too old and too poor to live in it… But it’s incredible fun.”

In Inkheart some of the characters who have escaped from books have the book written all over them. If she had to have a book written all over her, what would it be? “I would have verses from the Song of Solomon, which is so beautiful. I would want beautiful things written on me that people could read and go wow.” She beams mesmerisingly. As I get up to go she stops me and says, “And thank you for the view?” I blush, because I’ve just come back from LA I was jetlagged, couldn’t find any clean underwear so I didn’t wear any. I was wearing a tight skirt, I didn’t think she’d notice. But she did. “When you sat down and when you got up.” I think she’s a minx for making sure I knew she’d seen it. She laughs with a laugh that’s very naughty.



Emily Blunt

Glorious day Soho House LA. I’m sat on a balcony table when I see Emily Blunt approach. I greet her with a friendly hug, one of those I-know-you-because-you’re-so-familiar recognitions; that bitchy secretary in Devil Wears Prada; that spoilt rebellious girl with a girl crush in My Summer Of Love; the princess in Gulliver’s Travels; and more recently as Matt Damon’s star crossed lover in The Adjustment Bureau and her instantly recognisable chipper tones in Gnomeo and Juliet.
We both look at each other wondering why we just hugged each other. Strangely it didn’t feel empty. Blunt is in grey skinny jeans, a bashed up black T-shirt, bare faced but for mascara. She looks toned, lean, and like she’s just spent a few hours with Tracy Anderson’s DVD, but not her whole life.
She’s fully living in LA with her actor husband John Krasinski, the handsome one who was in the US version of The Office. “I love LA,” she says. “If you’re an actor you have these rather accelerated friendships with people you work with, so that stops it being a daunting alienating time. You can go into a restaurant and have that annoying acting thing of going ‘Oh I know you because of what I do’, so even if the initial hug has a certain flair of insincerity you are quickly able to strike up a conversation,” she says doing that penetrating, knowing stare for a millisecond.
“When I first came to LA I experienced the bloodbath of auditions. Summer Of Love had been made but not out. Weirdly, that’s the only film that I’ve done that I would recommend for people to see which is strange as I’ve got no clothes on for most of it, so it does seem strange to encourage people to see me barely dressed. You guys like girl on girl? I’ve got just the film,” she laughs, a pared down naughty laugh.
Her look may be LA but her manners are definitely self-deprecating English. Despite her award nominations for Prada, The Young Victoria and Gideon’s Daughter, she never takes anything for granted. “The job is very precarious. There’s an irrational insecurity that doesn’t go away. I don’t want to be in a situation where I’ve become casual about it.”
Indeed, Blunt is always on top of her game. She’d never cast herself as just the girlfriend or wife facilitating a leading man’s box office. She’s always gone for the strange, the clever, the neurotic. She’d rather take a small role and make it her own. “People like to label you but it’s important to mix it up and hopefully play other people that people like seeing you do. I still panic about work. You can usually find something, but you want to find something that makes your heart skip a beat. It’s not that I want to play weirdos, just people who have got some kind of conflict and a sense of purpose.”
Hence she is the feistiest Juliet ever in Gnomeo and Juliet, an animated 3D garden gnome version of the Shakespeare classic set to Elton John songs.
“You get Benny and the Jets, one of my all time favourite songs.” She starts singing “B-B-Benny and the Jets.”
“You have to be the worst over actor of all time to do animation. You don’t see anyone’s face apart from the director’s, so I would show up in my pyjamas.”
They made Juliet look a bit like her. “They filmed me and they copy your facial expressions. It’s awful when people make you aware of the ticks you have.
“They wanted to make me a tough Juliet. She’s not a victim. I made her more of a tomboy. I made her not too posh and accessible.”
And she’s a gnome with a chubby face, no waistline and no costume change for the whole movie, so no dieting for this role. I’ve read that she had to starve herself to play Vogue secretary in Prada. “I was 22 then so it was easier to keep weight off.She was supposed to be emaciated. She was starving, that’s why she was desperate.
“Things change when you hit 27 (28 on Feb 23). When I did Adjustment Bureau last year (where she played a ballet dancer) I had to be really thin again and it was hell. I also had to get ripped at the gym.”
She had to learn how to dance. “| lasted two days of ballet when I was four. I cried and said it hurt my feet. At the beginning there was some keenness to hire a dancer. I said to the director I think you need an actor to do it. He said if you work your arse off I’ll let you do it and literally my arse almost fell off. Six days a week I had eight weeks prep, I did two hours dance a day and an hour and a half in the gym. A strict diet, muesli in the morning, chicken salad, some fish and some sushi. It’s an endurance test to work like that, but these dancers are athletes, in order to play one you really have to live the life of an athlete. It was interesting to live the physical life of the character and there was an element of understanding her more. She was all about the work and strong. I did contemporary ballet and they are very strong and muscly.”
Did that make her feel powerful? “Yes,” she brightens, “I felt invigorated all the time. I definitely pulled muscles and threw things out and there’s a pain that comes with it when your muscles are just screaming because you’re so tired. Essentially you feel this robust energy going through you, which is a new feeling. I’ve always worked out, but not like that. Over Christmas I did a month of binge.” Certainly it doesn’t show. She puts that down to a couple of weeks of Bikram yoga. She orders fish taco and hummus.
“I love to cook and I love to eat. I make a great Thai green curry and a great roast chicken. I do it all the time, obsessively. It relaxes me and I get zen’d out. I go into a meditative state and I don’t want anyone helping me. My mother said trying to cook for four kids every day was just agony.”
Blunt grew up in Roehampton, south west London, the second eldest of four. Would she want four kids? “I don’t know. Probably not. It’s a lot isn’t it.” It wouldn’t surprise me though. There’s something very old-fashioned and capable about Blunt.
The Adjustment Bureau is part science-fiction thriller part romance based on a Philip K. Dick story. It’s about destiny and true love and can you change the course of it.
“Two people meet and they have an electric connection, as you do when you meet that person you feel you’re meant to be with. They meet and it’s instantaneous, they want to be with each other. They seem to have a secret language from the get go. Then comes the sci-fi element who are seen as big brother who can effectively manipulate people’s paths in life. Matt’s character finds out about this system and he wants to beat it to be with her, but the Adjustment Bureau are trying to keep them apart because the theory is she is enough for him. The relationship is fulfilling enough so he will not further his career and she won’t go on to do what she does and that will have a knock-on effect.”
Do you think it’s possible that if you are with someone that’s enough for you? “Yes, I think it is a possibility.”
Has she ever felt that, that she is in a relationship and not driven to do anything else? “Well, I am in a relationship that’s incredibly fulfilled and it’s just the best thing ever. I don’t think it makes me less driven, I think it makes me more confident on the drive.”
Does she mean it provides a core of stability from which she can flourish? “Absolutely, I think when you’re happy in a relationship it subconsciously gives you more than you realise.”
You wonder if it caused tension with her husband when she had to get passionate on film with Matt Damon? “It comes with the job. By that time Matt and I had become friends and I got to know his wife Lucy. I laughed the whole time because it’s so embarrassing to kiss somebody who is your friend. And there’s nothing sexy about it.”
Does she think that the premise of the movie is true, that there is such a thing as destiny? “I think you know very early on and I have always been a subscriber to fate. I look back on a number of things that have happened to me and wonder if what would have happened if something had directed me in a slightly different route. Would I have ever met this person? I am grateful for where these strange near misses have taken me.”
For instance had she never met Anne Hathaway she would never have introduced her to her husband? “Er, I don’t know where that came from.” I’ve read it many times. “It’s definitely not true. John didn’t know Annie when we first met.” So how did you and John meet? “I try never to talk about it. I feel I need to keep that for us.”
She falters when she says this because in many ways she’s a very open person. Perhaps it’s because she felt she said too much about Michael Bublé. They were together three years until July 2008 when they broke off suddenly. She even sang on his album Call Me Irresponsible and he wrote the love song Everything for her.
Does she think she’s ever going to sing again? “Probably not. In the shower maybe. ‘
She blushes at the mention of his name, ever so slightly. Is it a blush or is it just the sun? “He’s a good guy but I’m not in touch with him any more. It’s a weird thing bringing up exes. It’s weird when I’m married. It seems a long time ago.” Weirder than kissing Matt Damon? “Ha. It’s all weird. It’s a weird life for sure.”

Harrison Ford

You hear that Harrison Ford is not an easy man to be in a room with. Combative as an interviewee, defensive as a person, you read that he is pernickety, challenging, brusque, that he interrogates every question. He doesn’t want to give anything away. He holds a great weight inside of himself. That is part of his charisma.

I am in the beachy luxury of the old Spanish style hotel Casa del Mar in Santa Monica, chosen no doubt because he lives nearby, to be in a room with him. It’s a shock. He’s more sexy in the flesh. His face more rugged and real. He smiles a crooked but welcoming smile. His black shirt skims a taut stomach. No paunchiness, lots of working out. Age will not wither him. His hair is thick and in a ruffled crop. I tell him how much better he looks than the night before when I saw him on TV at the Academy Awards.

“Less well dressed,” he offers in his low rasping almost gravel whisper. More handsome, better hair. “What was wrong with my hair last night?” he says bringing out Mr Defensive. “It’s the same. It’s freshly washed. Nothing different.” He’s so easily offended by a compliment. Suspicious of everything already, but in a charming way. There’s an eruption of uneasiness and gentleness at the same time. Something taut and controlled as well as something wild. That’s often what he brings to his heroic roles.

He’s most known as being the hero. That’s what he’s good at, mixing ordinariness, even haplessness, with luck and strength that comes out of nowhere. The winner against all odds. He’s not showy or glossy. He doesn’t package or sell himself. He once said empathy was not a talent but a disposition. All of the above may have combined to make him one of the best paid heroes of all time. His combined films have grossed over $1 billion and he is the only actor to have made over $100 million for each decade that he’s worked. And here he is, about to reprise his most famous hero, indefatigable archeologist Indiana Jones, the role that first moved him to the super league of actors in 1981. The trilogy has been one of the biggest grossing box office takes of all time.

He’s good at being a hero. He does it so effortlessly with such laconic restraint, better at being a hero or a president than a romancer. But of course he’s done all of those things. What’s it like for him to be reviving the devil in his eyes role of Indiana Jones, 27 years after his first raid. The man who was voted sexiest alive as a thirtysomething surely finds different challenges as a sixtysomething? He is now 65.

He looks at me with yellow grey eyes. They fix a stare, reminding me of the stare he fixed on Kelly McGillis in Witness where she played an Amish woman. He stared at her knowing she wasn’t supposed to be stared at and managed to make it overtly sexy. “I like your hair too,” he says, although you see the circles of his mind rhythmically turning as he’s thinking how to correctly answer how time passes yet a hero remains the same. You see him measuring the rhythm of his sentence in his head before he says it.

His staring makes me feel the silence with the same question, slightly different. Does he feel a different kind of hero? Does he feel different about doing all the intense physical stuff?

“No,” he says. “It was fun. I was never so interested in the heroic part of it. This guy is an extraordinary character with an active imagination that’s just involved in a chain of events where some elements twist into something else…” He seems to like the stress, the haplessness. Indiana Jones, like Harrison Ford, doesn’t like to take credit or blame. He likes to just do the job.

“We didn’t shoot it like a Matrix style where if you hit somebody they end up in this big space and you didn’t feel the hurt, you don’t feel the fear. I feel you very quickly lose emotional connection with the character if it’s like that. We are more old school. I feel as fit as I did 20 years ago. They have figured out new things in safety so myself and the stunt man can do more. For instance when you see a car and a bus converging and we are in the middle on a motorcycle we are on a thin wire with a special harness…” He goes on, and on. He worked with the stunt men not they instead of him.

Do you have a thrill of doing those things? “No,” he says, pause, “It’s just fun. There’s not a lot of CGI, it’s mostly done with real physicality, real sets, some things put to scale.”

You ride motorbikes anyway, don’t you? “Yes,” he says, distracted, not wanting to talk about his own macho moments. Or maybe just his own moments. “But I don’t drag through the stuff he does. The fun is figuring out how to do it safely and survivable, the things that are outside your normal range of experience.”

He uses the phrase a few times, “Outside of your experience” as if for him that’s the excitement of the journey, to be outside of himself, a release. You ask why, when he so obviously loves his Indiana Jones persona and to make these movies, did it take so long? The last film was 19 years ago. “We started talking about it 15 years ago and over that period of time three scripts have been produced. It took the three of us, George (Lucas), Steven (Spielberg) and I to commit to course and none of us was fully satisfied with what was produced and then we were all doing different things.”

He shrugs as if there was no tension in that disagreement, as if it’s perfectly normal to reprise a role two decades apart. Over the years there have been other heroes and villains. Most successfully, Air Force One, The Fugitive, Patriot Games. Most critically acclaimed Bladerunner. He can do comedy as long as he’s not being too funny; Working Girl. There was the uncomfortable romcom Six Days Seven Nights with Anne Heche and the miscast Sabrina. And the super scary What Lies Beneath – taut sex scenes with Michelle Pfeiffer.

He is never raunchy. Always intrepid but never with a sense of entitlement. He usually does decency better than devious, but he can manage that too. It has been said that it’s his ordinariness that is so winning. But there’s far too much tangible conflict going on inside him for me to buy into that.

He’s never made an independent movie. He once said, “I simply have no particular yearning to do the same work for less money.” He once referred to his audiences as “my customers”. He grew up in the nondescript suburb of Des Plaines, Chicago. He left with his new wife when he was 22 to come to Hollywood. He had a small contract as an actor which he had to supplement with other work, mostly as a carpenter. After struggle came super money and the expectation that now Indiana Jones IV will be the biggest money maker of the year. Bringing all the players back together was obviously a big deal. He is resolute not to be ruffled by that or explain the ways in which they all couldn’t agree. Or perhaps he just wants to enjoy the moment of being back on the ride, escaping disaster, being outside of his experience.

He seems to study how not to even move an eyebrow when he tells me about a stunt that almost went wrong, that involved driving a military vehicle through a wall that was rigged with explosives. “It was supposed to look like the car was causing the wall to fly through the air and that I was driving through it, but it came just a millisecond before I went through… And I looked down and right next to me on the seat there’s this big-assed box of explosives that had survived. If it had gone off it would have caused a stitchable.” He uses the term stitchables as in cut as shorthand as if he’s old friends with stitchables.

“I didn’t get hurt on this one at all. I’ve got war wounds but they are all athletic or stupid, not because of a heroic willingness to endure pain or take risks.”

His most defining scar is across his chin, a great gash which has never

been homogenised by any cosmetic surgeon. It came from driving into a telegraph pole which somehow makes it more real, a different kind of heroic. “It was stupid. I was on my way to work in the knick knack and oil painting department of Bullocks department store. I was on this twisty Laurel Canyon road when I realised I had my seat belt off. It was an old Volvo coupe. The seat belt was hung on a peg over your shoulder. As I was fumbling to get it off the peg I ran off the road, hit a kerb, went up on two wheels and crashed into a telephone pole. I got this from the steering wheel on my way through the windshield. That was not heroic, it was stupid. Heroes are people who rush into burning buildings, who throw themselves on a grenade, who save starving people, who selflessly devote themselves to others.”

He looks at me closing his mouth to a full pout as if to stress that’s not him. He’s not up to that job. You sense that this is a man who doesn’t want to disappoint. In fact his life has been propelled by a dread of that. Don’t build me up and I can’t let you down. ” I’ve never had lofty goals – I just do the best job I can..” he once said.

There’s an insecurity about him that pulls you in, that translates on screen to vulnerability inside toughness, like a thread that runs through his work; daredevil hero, conflicted president, brain damaged lawyer, frantic husband or thwarted lover. He doesn’t like to be seen to try too hard. His sentences and movements are all purposeful, sparse. There is a heaviness around him that may come over on screen as strength and solidity, but as he rocks awkwardly in his chair you wonder if it’s not damage. He’s sitting so far forward I can see the label inside his black shirt, Theory. Not middle aged Brooks Brothers or pretentious Prada, but middle youth Theory.

He seems to feel me thinking about his vulnerability. “If the person you play behaves heroically they also have to humility and vulnerability and be deep enough in the shit of it all to have to save themselves. That’s a character I prefer to play, a guy who’s in over his head, who survives because of his tenacity, or his wit, or his dumb luck. That’s more interesting.”

Tenacity is interesting. “I think it is.” Is that him? Is that how he is? He smiles a long slow smile. He said the word tenacity with a strange kind of pride, wilfully dismissing any other of his talents. “I certainly have tenacity and in enough force to measure out through not just the last 15 or so years but the apprenticeship before I made enough money before I was able to say I was a full-time actor.” I don’t know why he said 15 years when he’s been a full-time actor for 30, but he’s just lost track of time.

It was a long time before he could say he was a full-time actor. He approached it with hands-on hard work, no over intellectualised method acting. He’s not the kind of actor who acts from the head or does it as therapy. It’s a different set of instincts. More from the body and heart. He has been dismissive of acting as therapy in the past, the idea that playing someone else gives you the chance of getting some emotional exercise. “I am not an unbridled fan of therapy,” he once said. Of course he’s not because he doesn’t like to explain himself. He’s all about the withholding. He’s cancerian. Hard on the outside, delicate flesh on the in, but choosing carefully who he might want to know that. The last person he would choose would be himself. Nonetheless he is emotionally present, even if he doesn’t want you to think he is. He never drifts off. He is very much on, alert, astute, assessing every second. Extremely driven at all times, even if he’s not sure where he’s going.

His first marriage was perhaps the casualty of this drive, or perhaps he was just too young. He married Mary Marquadt in 1964, a cheerleader he met in high school. He had dropped out of the University of Wisconsin in favour of pursuing the Hollywood dream, or at least his version of it, which seemed to be rather a domestic one. They had two children to support, Ben, now a renowned Los Angeleno chef, 40, and Willard, 37. After working at Bullocks he became a carpenter, a good carpenter who like a Hollywood fairytale was rediscovered as an actor when he was cabinet making for George Lucas. He put him first in American Graffiti then Star Wars, and that was the start of the accidental hero trajectory, the one that fits in so well on screen and so uncomfortably off.

There are many interviews in the past where he has said the biggest regret was the failure of his first marriage. But that was before the second one had failed also. He has commented, “Sometimes I think I have been a better actor than husband or father. I had to leave my family behind in order to make money for us to eat.” Mary Marquadt now suffers from MS and doesn’t believe that he was a bad husband. In a recent interview she talked about how Ford still more than provides for her financially. “Harrison has been a true friend and a great love. He has stood by me quietly asking for nothing in return through my darkest days.”

It is impossible to imagine that Ford was not conflicted if not tortured when both marriages fell apart. He met his second wife, ET screenwriter Melissa Mathison when she was an executive assistant on Apocalypse Now in 1979. They were married for 17 years. They have a son Malcolm, 21, and daughter, Georgia, 16. Much of the marriage was spent in Jackson, Wyoming. He rebuilt woodland and redirected trout streams. They watched eagles. He was labelled reclusive and quiet family man. He was out of the public eye and enjoyed that. The marriage floundered. There was a separation, a brief reunion and a divorce. The disruption of it must have been hard for him as this is a man who also talked about not liking his furniture to be moved even a few inches. He depends on what is solid.

Colin Farrell said recently if he wasn’t an actor he’d be a carpenter because he likes making things. Is there a link between building a character and an apprenticeship in carpentry? His eyes sparkle, he moves from a nervous hunched position in his chair to a welcoming open one. He likes this question. “I think so. I think it’s a way to organise your thinking around something, making something. It is gratifying to take a piece of lumber and make it into something else, knowing that you had this idea and made this idea manifest. It’s the same thing with acting, you take these disparate bits and put them together and make this character. It’s purpose built to serve the story, just like you build a piece of furniture for utility. It’s a practical mindset that many actors have, not all. But there’s a strain that runs all the way down from me to Olivier who had this similar sense. We all have to find our own way but it’s interesting when you discover that others have the same idea of it as a craft rather than some strange artistic process that is not available to any but the most gifted of us. It’s a hard slug sometimes. You have to know what you’re doing and why you are doing it and that you are in service to an idea, a conversation between you and the audience. It’s always about the story,” he says loving the idea that he is lost in something bigger than himself.

Has he ever ever not been able to find a way in, had actors block? “No. It’s always been fun for me. It used to be more difficult because I had less of a sense of how to work with people to gain the kind of confidence and understanding that allows you to help them.” In other words being an actor taught him how to be.

“You have to learn about people to make it work.” Were you naturally good with people growing up I say, guessing that he was cripplingly shy, awkward and self-contained. “No,” he says looking at me with the grey yellow staring eyes again, sometimes so wounded, sometimes so combative. He knows that I must have read he was bullied at school. That boys took him up to the top of the hill, beat him up, then rolled him down.

“I wasn’t very sociable. In fact one of the things that I found in acting was something I could do with people because I didn’t like competitive sports, teams, so there was nothing…” the voice trails. Does he mean acting was a way of dealing with people but not actually being yourself, but a self you could make available to other people. “Yeh, that’s part of it as well. But also something slightly different. I discovered I could scare the bejesus out of people, but my own knees were knocking. I couldn’t control my own emotions even when I was pretending, so it was a matter of self-discipline, doing something that at times scared me and then I found I actually loved working. I loved stories and this is my way to being part of a group of storytellers. I felt the power of the story, the power of literature, identifying elemental themes, the things that concern us all, then disguising it in a revelation of plot and characters, and then I thought, shit, this is it, this is the stuff of life, give me a piece of this,” he says beaming, twinkling, theatrical even, but affecting.

“I was working with a group of people and it was the first time I found a sense of community in my life, in a culture that I was part of.” His hands lay open on his jeans. His soul now seems open. That element of fear that he talks about and overcoming it, learning from it, is that what still drives him? “No.” He is comfortable in his pause. What is he afraid of tackling? “Nothing really. I enjoy the performing up until the point they ask me to sing,” he laughs. “I’m not interested in being scared any more. When you get scared you close up and it’s all about opening up,” he says as if I should know, opening up is what’s been hardest and scariest for him as opposed to knowing how to protect himself.

What about the notion that if you are afraid of something you should do it anyway, it’s good for you? “I don’t identify with those things,” he says sternly. He has a way of shrinking you instantly, making you feel bad for talking to him in T-shirt slogan psychology. He corrects, “I would fear going to war but I don’t have any reason for doing that. I would fear going into a fire, and I’m not going to do that.”

The silence becomes awkward again, filled with unasked questions and a rearranging of barriers. He wobbles about in his chair. It makes a noise – clack, clack, clack. His black shirt skims his body in an interesting way showing off his shape which is lithe and strong. He looks good not just for 65, but just good. He holds back his emotions in such an obvious way; anger, pain, self righteousness, and fear of being judged are all set out there in front of us. Now he is sitting in a squashed up position doing something strange and tense with his arm, almost pushing himself back on it. His eyes dart the room and then back to me. He’s looking at me to see what I’m looking at, perhaps testing if I am going to look away first. I don’t. He softens. “I’m not afraid of flying for instance because I’ve learned to fly and I was taught properly in stages. People think that my attraction to it might be for the thrill or I might be into things like that for the speed or the thrill. I’m not so crazy about that. What I’m interested in is understanding what the risks are, mitigating them by having the required skills, practising those skills, planning the event and knowing where the danger is.” Pretty much his reasoning for dangerous acting, working with the stuntman, not CGI.

Does he feel afraid when other people are flying the plane? “Oh,” he smiles, “I far prefer to fly myself. I’m not afraid but I’m a do it yourself kind of guy.” He is a cocktail of insecurity and fearlessness. You imagine that he was reared with emotional low maintenance. That must have taken its toll and left gaps that will go forever unnurtured. Does he still have his ranch? I imagined him there tromping through the woods, through the mountains in conversation with only himself.

“I have what they refer to as a ranch. I have a piece of land in Jackson, Wyoming, that is largely forest rather than cleared for pasture. It’s full of wildlife and streams and the like. It’s on the Snake River and it’s much the same as it was 150 years ago,” he says dreamily. “It’s in the mountains and it’s…” His voice stops. Do you spend much time there? “I don’t now because I have a seven year old in first grade, so we are nailed to the school schedule and she is doing a series in television that is very successful, so she has to be here.”

The she is Calista Flockhart, his girlfriend since meeting at the 2002 Golden Globe Awards. He had never seen an episode of Ally McBeal. The neurotic lawyer and her pin thinness had made her extremely famous. Much was made of the fact she was 22 years younger, although she looks more womanly now. They have been together six years and though the barbs may have softened against them, you feel that they’ll forever be scratching in his head. People didn’t seem to accept them as a couple. It wasn’t what they would have imagined, but a few years prior to Calista, people were shocked to find Ford drinking tequila slammers, he was pictured in nightclubs or strip joints and once was even said to have a woman’s bra on his head. Perhaps it was because people had him down as boringly trustworthy, a grafter, not a player.

Wasn’t that the real time of terror? Wasn’t it frightening to change his life by stepping into a new relationship? “No. It’s exciting exploring new relationships. I had been out of the relationship business for a couple of years when we met, except for relationships with my kids that is. I hadn’t had a serious relationship…” There’s a pause as if he might be thinking of a different way to put that. “As an actor I’ve always taken risks. I open myself up to possibilities.” Those possibilities came after a long phase of being out on the town. Suddenly here he was in public, a man who had always loved anonymity. There were reports of flings with Minnie Driver and Lara Flynn Boyle, who inspired the phrase ‘lollypop lady’ because her head was too big for her tiny body. He inherited her from Jack Nicholson and seemed to be enjoying releasing his inner Jack on the world. Isn’t that the time that people refer to as his mid-life crisis I ask.

“I don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. I went out more since there was no reason to stay at home. Not a big deal. I think they were looking for some new development to introduce into the Harrison Ford story, so they went for that and the appearance of an earring was enough for them to generate the whole mid-life crisis thing.” Yes, indeed reams were written about the small and black glittering thing that still sits in his ear.

He could have got a tattoo or something like that? “No I couldn’t because then I wouldn’t be able to be buried in the Jewish cemetery.” But he is not Jewish. “I’m half Jewish. My mother. And that’s the half that makes you Jewish. But I don’t want a tattoo anyway. The earring came after I had lunch with a couple of buddies – Jimmy Buffet, the singer, and Ed Bradley, the guy from 60 Minutes. Both had earrings, pirates the both of them.” he likes that word pirate. He smiles conspiratorially as he says it. “I walked away from lunch saying you know what, I’m going to get my ears pierced, just to piss people off. And I went down to the first jewellery store on Madison Avenue that offered to punch a hole in your ear for the price of an earring and suddenly I had one.” I admire its glitteringness. “It doesn’t much matter to me, but I liked it a little bit that people say wait a second, what’s going on. Although I don’t go out of my way to get people to comment,” he says, and stops, realising he has contradicted himself saying he loves attention, he hates it. He loves the woods, he likes the parties. He particularly liked the idea that such a tiny thing could orchestrate huge hysteria.

I tell him I like the idea that someone who embraces a riven masculinity could introduce something to his persona that’s a little feminine and a little camp. He looks uncomfortable, pauses, laughs, first of all nervously, and then wickedly as he says. “I think I was introducing the naughty.” And here we see what is perhaps the most natural Harrison Ford, the playful. Who would Indiana Jones be if he were not playful. He continues, “Those two buggers were genuine pirates. They were brilliant. Ed had to wear a suit to work and he had this big assed earring and you weren’t supposed to do that if you were on 60 Minutes. That’s what I liked. It was a little tiny case of being a rebel.” Was that new for him to rebel? “Oh no. I think I always had the rebel, I just didn’t have the earring.”

If you had a superpower what would it be? “I would love to be invisible.” Yeh, of course you would. We laugh. “Yeh, that’s problematic, isn’t it.” You wonder about the premier action hero, one of the biggest grossing actors of all time and his desire to be invisible. I’m sure the real Ford has been concealed, buried, mutated within Indiana Jones and all the others – all the brave ones. Perhaps that’s where he went to be invisible. “Perhaps,” he says. By now though he’s not looking tortured or stiff. He’s funny and easy to be in the room with. “Don’t you think it would be great to have that super power? I wouldn’t use it just to sneak into changing rooms. I would be able to observe human nature without being observed.” Would he sneak into changing rooms as well? He laughs. “I don’t know if my earring would be invisible.” We imagine the little dot swooping around the changing room and women trying to swat him like a fly. “I’d like to fly too. Everyone has flying dreams. They are the most spectacular. Have you seen those guys who wear squirrel suits. It’s a suit that has a web here,” he points to under his arms and between his legs. “They jump off mountains. I would never do that. I like having engines.”

The conversation has wound itself back to engines and action and I turn it back into something more interior. When he’s in a relationship does he like to observe but not really known himself, I ask? “It looks like we are running out of time,” he says deadpan. The publicist has been in and out several times now to end it. But he has been enjoying himself he says. Two more questions, I say, one simple, one less. “Let’s start with the less simple one,” he says, consciously unpredictable.

When you are in a relationship do you prefer to be the person who loves most or is loved most? He rocks back in his chair thinking. “I don’t know if it ever works quite that way because the ambition is for it to be equal. That’s the thing that keeps you in it.” But it’s never equal. He doesn’t disagree, continues thinking. Not tensely or avoiding the question, but wanting to give the right answer. “I think there is only one appropriate answer and that is to be the person who loves the most. That gives you the greatest potential to be loved.” Some people define themselves by their capacity to feel. Some people by their need to receive. “Yes, but I don’t think I could make it either way if it was just that for a length of time, although I understand both emotional positions and I think I have been there in both of them. I don’t fall in love easily but when I do, by God, I both have the need and expectation for it to be equal. Now can I have the easy one please?”

What characteristics of your parents have you inherited? “My father’s work ethic and my mother’s insecurities. My father is Irish and my mother is Jewish. The only thing that held the family together is that they were both Democrats, so I was raised Democrat.” His eyes twinkle when remembering his

“It was a great upbringing.” Challenging perhaps? “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” he says looking at me, giving me one final quizzical look, making those words seem real and not a cliche. It’s as if he wants me to wonder what it was that didn’t kill him, or maybe he’s just looking at my hair. I’m not sure if goodbye is going to be a smile or a handshake but it turns out to be a hug, a firm all embracing one. I feel a tingling going up and down my entire body. When I leave the room I realise I have blushed from the inside out. Whatever he’s learned, whatever he’s lost, whatever he closes or opens, you felt a real person in that hug, not necessarily one that always wants to be invisible.

Denzel Washington

The first 20 minutes of Flight are possibly the most adrenalin spiked 20 minutes in film. We see Denzel Washington wake up in his crumpled hotel room. We see the gorgeous naked woman he’s just spent the night with. He gets up. We see his body a little too soft, a little too juicy. His hair a little too long, a little too springy. Then we see him take a line of cocaine.

This little scene is not shocking in itself. It is shocking because it is Denzel Washington. We don’t see him do sex and drugs and rock and roll. We see him as political martyr Malcolm X, freedom fighter Steve Biko, the Zen-like boxer Ruben Carter in Hurricane. We see him saving the train in Pelham 123 and the beyond ruthless CIA agent turned traitor in Safe House.

He’s played the good, the bad, the conflicted, but it’s a long time since we’ve seen him get out of bed naked. Then comes a further jolt. We see him put on his pilot’s uniform, and that his girlfriend is the flight attendant.

We see them board the plane. We see weather, turbulence. We see him down the vodka just before the plane’s hydraulic system fails.

We see him turn the plane upside down and fly it. You watch it heart in throat. It’s Denzel Washington, he’s the hero, he’s going to survive. Right?

Then it becomes clear that’s not the story. It’s not about him being a hero, it’s about an act of God that wrecked the plane and changed his life forever. It’s about love, truth, redemption. Stories that Denzel knows how to tell best and weave them into your heart and soul.

When we meet in a Beverly Hills hotel room he’s looking bright eyed, sparkling eyed even. His skin is fresh and he’s lean and strong in a navy sweater and dark jeans. His smile lights up the room as it does the screen.

He is sitting in an oversized overstuffed armchair with a high back. ‘I feel like I’m sitting on a throne here.’ He is king after all. ‘No I’m not,’ he retorts quickly but purposefully. ‘I just like the chair. It’s a kind of Richard III thing.’

These days he’s all about Shakespeare and the theatre. In 2010 he did the play Fences on Broadway with Viola Davis. He started off as a stage actor in New York. That going back to his roots revitalised him.

‘It did. You know as we mature – well hopefully mature – as we get older, hopefully we get wiser and you start to realise how many shots do I have left? And the experience of working with Viola on Broadway was such a thrill. Watching her I realised I’m fighting for my life out there with this brilliant actress. The whole process is where I am in my life right now. It reawakened me. I felt alive again and I said I want to apply that same work ethic to every job in terms of preparation, investigation, everything. I’d said to myself I want to work hard and I want to do things the right way and I want to have the feeling that this is not just another gig.’

For Washington, now 57, there have been many gigs that seem from the outside not just another gig. His performances are consistently acclaimed. He is box office nectar. He has had multiple Oscar nominations and won twice, first Best Supporting Actor in the Civil War drama Glory in 1989 and then in 2001 for Training Day, where he played narcotics detective Alonso Harris who breaks the law he is supposed to enforce.

He is drawn to ambiguous characters, bad guys who are vulnerable and vice versa. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him turn in a bad performance or a bad review. There has never been a bad period or a lull. He has kept on form. Recent movies Unstoppable and Safe House, have been box office thrillers.

The movies would have been good on their own. It was Washington who made them viable. You never see him acting. He is always effortless, considered, magnetic. Or that’s how he comes over.

On the inside perhaps he felt complacent. ‘No matter how big a movie is, I never want it to be just another gig. I don’t want that. Don’t want to know.’

He savours words and he looks right at you. He misses no detail. Not even a smell goes unchecked. He notices that I’m wearing the same perfume, Carnal Flower, as the last time we met a couple of years ago.

Perhaps his recent questioning of how many shots was highlighted by the shock suicide in August of his friend Tony Scott, director of Crimson Tide, Man On Fire, Déjà Vu, Pelham 123 and Unstoppable.

‘I made five movies with him. I talked to him about a week before he died about our sixth movie. He wanted to do a film where I played a submarine captain driving a submarine filled with narcotics. We were talking about it.’

Were there any clues as to his state of mind? ‘No.’ He shakes his head emphatically. His eyes flash with a kind of urgency to recall everything exactly.

‘First of all I’ve never been in a situation like this where you start to backtrack. You think what they said to you. You think what you said. And then a week later they kill themselves. You might think it was something that I did. You know what I mean, you don’t know, you don’t see it coming. I don’t know what was going on in his life.’

He was depressed? ‘Something. Obviously.’

Shortly after the news there were some reports that he had cancer that was terminal and these were quickly denied. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know. I haven’t talked to anyone who said that he was ill.’

Sharp intake of breath. ‘The Scott brothers,’ he says, almost like it’s a prayer. It is certainly said with reverence and bewilderment.

He says of the Tony Scott submarine project. ‘I wouldn’t touch it now. Not without him.’ Next up he has a film 2 Guns with Mark Wahlberg. ‘We were just acting stupid basically. It’s the first time I’ve ever acted stupid. We’ll see what happens.’

People don’t expect him to act stupid. They expect gravitas. ‘Exactly. Choosing parts after a great play like Fences and then to do such a dark guy like in Safe House, you just want to do something silly.’ Washington has never wanted to be pinned down as one thing. He dislikes boxes and labels.

He was born in 1954 in Mount Vernon, New York, a mostly middle class suburb. His father was a preacher who worked for the water company in the day and a security guard at night and preached in between. His mother, who was by all accounts feisty and formidable, ran beauty salons. His parents divorced when he was 14, which coincided, with his own teenage middle child (of three) rebellious phase. For a while he hung out with a bad crowd.

His mother sent him away to boarding school where he rebelled further but turned himself around in order to go to college to study medicine. Then he changed to political science. Then law and finally he found that he was good at acting and that’s what he stuck with.

Not that he wanted to recommend the profession to his daughter who is studying at NYU. She did a small part in her first film (with Precious director Lee Daniels) in the summer. He looks protective when he talks about her.

Is it exciting or worrying for him to see her going into the acting profession? ‘It’s interesting. In her senior year at high school she was working on her audition and LaTanya Richardson, who is Sam Jackson’s wife and a brilliant actress in her own right, was working with her, and I said, “Alright Olivia, I want to see your two pieces” and she went on the floor and went all dramatic and she said, “Oh dad.” And I said, “Come on now. Nobody’s going to be tougher than me. I’m going to tell you the truth because I’d rather you’d be a little hurt if you don’t have what it takes than have a lifetime of pain.”

‘She did the two pieces and right away I said do them again. She did them again and I said, “OK. Here’s the bad news. This is one of the toughest profession’s you’re ever going to try to do. The bad news is you are very good. You are very good and you have what it takes. I can see that already.” I would never have said that if I hadn’t meant it. I put on my director’s hat and watch a young actor audition. And she was good.’ He says it almost wishing it had been easier.

He directed Antwone Fisher (2002) and The Great Debaters (2007) and is preparing to direct again. ‘I don’t know exactly what it is yet. It’s not set and I don’t want to jinx it.’

As an actor he intellectualises his role way ahead of time. Flight director Robert Zemeckis says, ‘He arrived very prepared.’

For Safe House he wanted to experience the torture of water boarding in real life. “I wanted to see what it would be like. It’s strange. You can’t breathe in, because the water comes in, and it’s filling up your mouth,” said Washington. “And that was just one time for a short time. Imagine having that done for 20, 30 seconds? You will give up the answers! You may not necessarily tell the truth, but you will tell [your captors] whatever they want to hear.”

So how did he prepare to be an alcoholic pilot? I gesture to the hotel suite minibar. ‘Did he check in and drink the minibar? ‘No, nothing like that. In fact I did absolutely not drink the entire picture. Normally I might have a glass of wine after work or something like that. But on this one I was afraid I might get too into it, and I just wanted to be clear. I want to give 100 per cent of myself and I want to be focused.’

How foolish of me to think that to get into the part of a man who loves to drink would involve some method drinking. ‘Nothing would have been worse than drinking on the set. And then you might think you were good and you’d be awful.’

Instead he went into the flight simulator. Listened to pilots talking. Didn’t ask them questions about drinking but typed “worse drunks of all time’ into YouTube and looked at the guys telling themselves they were absolutely fine as they fell over.

He gained weight for the part so the puffiness would look like it was bloating from alcohol. ‘I ate a lot. I ate what I wanted and I ate late at night. I would come home from work. I didn’t over eat. But if I wanted a hamburger and fries and shake and a piece of apple pie with ice cream on it I had it.’

And he’d normally eat like that once a week? ‘Less. But I knew this was a man who drank and did drugs. He’s not going to be going to the gym and he’s going to be not sleeping enough.

‘In the opening scene, in the bed I wanted my gut to be hanging out. I wanted to get up and my behind be sticking out when I was sniffing coke, smoking cigarettes and drinking. You’ve got to go there because that’s who he is. There’s no cute version.’

We see Washington playing a man in conflict impeccably. He is both a hero and a man on self-destruct. We haven’t seen Washington quite like that before. His eyes light up. ‘Great. I hope people say we haven’t seen Denzel like that.’ Once again delighted that neither he nor his character has been pinned down.

‘I don’t categorise. People want to put you in things. He is a complicated man. It’s a complicated movie. You can’t just stand on one side or the other.’

Talking to Washington happens on many levels too. He is chatty, he is jokey, he is relaxed, but he too is complicated. He doesn’t go to Hollywood premieres. You never see him in the gossip columns. He’s been married to his wife Pauletta for 29 years and 17 years ago they renewed their vows in front of Archbishop Tutu in South Africa. He doesn’t talk much about his wife although he never specifically says he’s not going to talk about her. In all he has four children, John David, Katia, and twins Olivia and Malcolm.

Flight is also a love story, and again we haven’t seen Washington in one of those for a while. The scenes between his character Whip Whitaker and Kelly Reilly’s character Nicole are intensely tender, intensely troubled. It’s another level to the movie that makes it not just another gig. I’ve rarely seen him so vulnerable.

‘Really?’ His eyes open wide. ‘I didn’t think about it as vulnerable. I’m playing the part, so I’m not thinking oh, I’m going to be vulnerable.’ Washington often refers to the fact that he wasn’t thinking, that he’s done something instinctively. Yet on another level he is thinking all the time, always on.

‘I do have one regret. I should have slobbered more and been more pathetic in the scene where he curses her. Maybe I did do it that way and Bob didn’t use it.’

He can’t remember how he played the part because he was so lost in it. You wonder how far apart these characters are. Washington so sparkly, so handsome, so professional. And a man unravelling in his own self-destruction and alcoholism.

Has he ever had an addictive personality? ‘I’m still here! I think we all have some point in our lives where we’ve gone too far and you have to come back. Any time you’ve got into a car and you’ve had too much to drink and you put other people’s lives at risk. I’m not going to tell you I’ve not been guilty of that in my life, especially in my youth. Obviously nothing like this guy, I wouldn’t want to be that guy.’

Flight questions how alcoholics survive by telling lies. There is a moment where if his character tells one more lie it would save him and doom him in equal parts. If he lies he gets away with it.

Has Washington ever had a situation like that where he had to decide if he should lie? ‘Nothing to this level. More like if I lied to my mum I might not get told off. I do remember when I was a little kid I stayed out way too late and it’s probably why I started acting. I knew I was going to get a whipping when I got home.

‘I stopped outside the door of the house and I could hear my mother and father in the kitchen so I actually ripped my shirt, put spit under my eyes, messed up my hair. I was already messed up because I’d been out most of the night. But I came in…’

He puts on a fake sobbing tone. ‘And I went through a whole business (of how he’d been attacked) and my mother said “You see, that’s what you get for staying out late. Now go in to the bathroom and clean yourself up and come in and sit down and eat.” And I remember looking into the mirror and thinking, “Ha, maybe I should try this again.” Maybe while I was in there my mum was thinking “That little knuckle head thinking he was fooling us.” I don’t know, but yes, I got away with it.
And fortunately for us, Washington is still getting away with it.

Everything Denzel Washington says is said with incredible force, warmth, and he savours every word. He is in his suite at the Four Seasons, Beverly Hills. I arrive as room service leaves. He perches over his lunch of a giant juicy steak. He’s just cut a chunk. It’s hovering on the end of his fork just about to go into his mouth and he decides to inhale me instead.

“What are you smelling of? You smell like a lei, Hawaiian flowers, the one beginning with a g.” He opens his mouth and his nostrils at the same time. Shoves the piece of steak in and chews heartily. “Mm, it’s the g flower, the gardenia one. Isn’t it?,” he says excitedly.

“It’s called Carnal Flowers,” I tell him.

“Carnal flowers,” he says, salivating and cutting off another piece of steak. He’s very excited. And his excitement is somehow infectious. He likes to play around. He likes to joke, even though of course he takes his craft ultra seriously with an absolute eye for the minutest detail. And I wonder if the overt smelling was a reference to the movie Deja Vu where smelling is an intricate part. If you smell something it’s a trigger, it can take you back. If you smell something you feel it, you’re in the real world, you’ve not slipped down a wormhole as he does in the movie.

Deja Vu is a murder mystery, an understated romance, the ultimate surveillance that involves time travel. “I don’t know where I got that smelling thing from. I think I just did it and Tony Scott said yeh, do that some more.”

In the movie it was as if he needed to smell to feel he was real. “It’s about using all the senses, not relying on what you see, what you hear, what you smell and ultimately what you feel”

You get the impression that Denzel Washington has the hugest capacity to feel. Everything he does is filled with a raw and deep emotion, even just chewing his steak. The ultimate guy’s guy that is also super sensitive. Tall, sharp, funny. The overriding sense you get from him is that he is super protective – of himself, if you go in too far too deep too soon he doesn’t like that. Of his family, particularly his daughters. Of his co-star Paula Patton in Deja Vu. His whole protectiveness elevates the story from one of a simple thriller to something that is personal, intimate, something that really matters. He is even protective of me. The last time we met I was almost passing out with pain (stomach cramps). He was more like a doctor than an actor in that interview. You tell him these things and he doesn’t like compliments. I tell him that he came over as such a force of shiny protection. “Well I did not think I was shiny and protective. Thankyou, but that’s not how I see myself. Maybe I could have played that part in a different way, like a dirty twisted old man. Maybe that’s a different movie. Maybe it was just that Tony made a really good choice in Paula because she’s a real sweet person and that comes across. You want to protect her. Me, protective person? Hm. Yeh, yeh, yeh. All this as I eat my steak. Well you know it’s coming up to Thanksgiving. Get turkey for the next five days. Got to get my steak in now.”

He likes to present a thin facade of machismo. Wrap himself up in it, but he knows it’s easily unravelled. Even when he played the brutal narcotics detective Alonzo Harris in Training Day there was something wounded about him. That’s what makes Denzel a great actor. You don’t feel for him, you feel with him. As Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter the boxer wrongly accused of murder in The Hurricane his sweet stoicism made you cry and got him an Oscar nod. This kind of emoting the audience first became apparent when he inhabited the role of Steve Biko in Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom in 1987. A whole slew of films Man On Fire, Manchurian Candidate, Inside Man have all demonstrated Washington’s capacity for toughness with an undercurrent of vulnerability. He is complex and instantly accessible, was once called “so handsome he should be illegal” and he is of course deliciously handsome. And here he is right in front of me smelling me, if somewhat ostentatiously, just because he knows it will amuse me. He knows how to get right to you. He knows how to carry you along.

In Deja Vu you are left contemplating the universe and every relationship you’ve ever had. Deja Vu is in itself a bonding phenomenon. Everyone’s had that flash that you meet someone new and feel you’ve known them all your life, feel inexplicably in love with a stranger. In the movie flipping back in time is possible, and that’s how deja vu is defined, that you have been there before. It raises the question, if you could do it all again could you, would you. In real life deja vu is a trick of the mind, is it a dream. In the movie it involves an extreme form of surveillance where you look at something and as you’re looking at it you can travel in time. It involves the highly complex notion of the parallel universe and slipping down wormholes into alternative dimensions where the same thing is going on but just a little earlier. If you have the power to slip into that dimension do you have the power to change it.

“Be careful what you ask for,” Washington wags his finger.
The movie’s convolutedness and complex science are made tangible by Washington’s very fleshy, sensuous performance. He’s an ATF (Tobacco and Firearms Agent), he’s an everyman. You figure it out with him. He’s good at taking you on journeys.

I tell him, ‘You must have had deja vu moments with a string of interviewers asking you what is your favourite deja vu moment?’ “Aha, ha, ha. I usually turn it on its ear and ask them the question back.”

Typical Washington, he’s always more interested in asking the questions. He has an insatiable curiosity as well as a liking to duck and dive.

“Scientists talk about how we use only ten per cent of our brain. What is the other 90 per cent doing? That’s where the intuition, the feelings, the deja vus, all that stuff. It goes there. I think as we advance our interactive skills, our information skills, our brain is getting weaker and weaker because it doesn’t imagine. Like your mother would tell you a story and you would imagine all the characters. If you listen to the radio or read a book you make the movie in your head. Now it’s all given to you on a plate. You have a television with 500 channels. The muscles in the brain are getting weaker.

“Maybe deja vu is some sort of intuition. You feel you know this person well. It’s as if you’ve met them before but you’ve just intuited who they are.”

I tell him I’ve always thought his powers of intuition have been strong. “What do you mean?” He’s almost shrieking, offended. I feel you intuit a part, a person, you’re always looking for different angles, always asking questions, curious, it’s like you’re switched on the whole time.

“Ah,” he says. “I think I’ve worked on developing that muscle. One spiritual journey develops that muscle. I’ve gone through the eastern philosophies, Christianity, Buddhism, Swamis, and back to Christianity and Islam. Just searching. I mean Siddharta by Herman Hesse is my favourite book because he was walking the earth, praying, searching. I kind of had that vibe and curiosity. It leads you to your own philosophy, like working on what that 90 per cent of your brain is doing.

“Is it OK to be a searcher and a carnivore?” he says. Maybe he isn’t sure of how the extremely spiritual side of him fits with the grounded, the basic. And maybe that’s the key to him. It’s a key that he doesn’t want me to find. He hates being analysed. “We don’t understand oxygen but we keep breathing.

“I think if this movie is about anything it’s about if you could change anything would you. Doing this movie shows me that I would not want to do that because of the domino effect. If you changed one thing how would you change another.”

It’s not that Denzel Washington had a charmed life that makes him think he would not want to change anything, but there’s a determination about him and a stoicism that makes him work hard for what he wants and a spiritual side that makes him accept what he doesn’t get. He’s not your typical movie star. He doesn’t love glamour or bling. I’ve read that his wife had to persuade him to upgrade his car into something a little fancy at a time when he could have gone plushy luxury. Recently a friend of mine was in her local video shop. Browsing among the shelves she found a random man and asked him to recommend something. They were out of his first recommendation The Da Vinci Code so he went with Inside Man and when she got it home she realised that the man recommending it was the star of the movie. So there’s a Hollywood rarity, he goes to the video shop himself.

He was born in 1954 in Mount Vernon, New York, a mostly middle class mostly white suburb. His father was a preacher who worked for the water company in the day and as a security guard at night and preached in between. His mother, a formidable figure, ran beauty salons. His parents divorced when he was 14, which coincided with his own teenage middle child (of three) rebellious phase. He was a keyboardist in a band with three friends who all ended up serving time. It was one of those fork in the road moments. His mother, upon the recommendation of a school’s career officer, who felt he was intelligent and had a chance of a career, sent him away to boarding school where he found a group of bad boys who could afford to buy drugs. He’d never touched a drug or drink before that. Despite the potential bad influence he did well, went to college to study medicine, then changed to political science, then he thought he might be a lawyer, and then he found he could act and potentially be all of the above, or at least have the experience of feeling what it would be like to be them.

I wonder if he is most like his devout preacher father who hardly ever watched a movie, or his tough love mother. “Similar? You might have to ask my mother that. He’s gone,” he says in a whisper. His father died 15 years ago. “I wouldn’t dare say.” Back in Denzel boom he says, “Closer to, that’s different to similar to, isn’t it. I would say that the mother is the one that is there so you are always going to be closer to your mother. My own children are probably closer to my wife. They have spent more time with her. She knows them better. That’s the way it is in most homes.”

His oldest boy John David is 22 and a football player with the St. Louis Rams. Katia has just turned 19 and Malcolm and Olivia are 15-year old twins. “Maybe it’s chauvinistic, sexist, but I don’t worry about my son the football player. He’s out of the house, he can take care of himself. But with my oldest daughter, she’s away at college but she came home for the holidays. I couldn’t sleep, it was two in the morning, I was going down the corridor. Was her car there, was she in her room? If she’s at college I know she’s staying out late but I don’t think about it. When she came home it seemed to pick up right where she left off. But yeh, I would say that my parents were protective and controlling when they needed to be. And of course I’m a protective parent.”

He’s also a protective partner. It’s been said before that he doesn’t easily do love scenes and never would want to show them to the public before his wife of 25 years Pauletta could see even a kiss first. Twelve years ago they renewed their vows in front of Archbishop Tutu and then a gathering at Nelson Mandela’s house. He says that stories about his unwillingness to take his shirt off have certainly been exaggerated. In Deja Vu though the romance is all the more powerful for being underplayed.

“I think it’s sexier that way. We could have been jumping on the mattress every ten minutes, but that wouldn’t have been right. It wasn’t even scripted that I kissed her, I just did it and that was enough. I mean, my character has just saved her life a few hours ago, I think it’s much more romantic and more interesting to be about what you don’t do. I love a big part of this film was a love story in reverse. My character meets her when she’s dead and he tries to treat her like just a piece of evidence, the body, but as things unfold he gets the chance to watch her live and be with her watching her for days.”

Do you think watching somebody is about protecting or controlling? “Oh, I think there’s a thin line, but in the film he’s not controlling because he has no idea he can actually do anything about it.”

What makes his character and Denzel himself have an extra edge of charisma is that there is always the potential for darkness as well as sweetness. This is the third time he has worked with director Tony Scott and when he cast him as the former FBI agent who liked to get maudlin at the bottom of a bottle in Man On Fire he said that he thought Denzel had a dark and obsessive side.

“Dark, obsessive, sweet, protective? I don’t work with any of that. I’m neither. I’m me. I do a job, I interpret a role. I think we all are those things at the same time and I don’t think, ooh, let me access the sweet now. It’s not like I’ve got 12 different things I can do and I’ve got to work off one. There’s several of them going on now in this interview. I am sensitive, intuitive, there’s a dark obsessive side, and a carnivore. That’s trying to pin me down. Mm, carnal flowers, that’s who I am. No, if I were a perfume it wouldn’t have a title, I wouldn’t name it anything.”

What would it smell of? What note would it have? “Minor chords,” he nods. “Minor chords.” he still plays music, “but not enough. I’ve been listening to this girl Ayo and she has a song that she sings about her father and how she did not understand the sacrifices he made when she was growing up. With the song she apologises for the hard times she gave him. It doesn’t specifically make me think of my father, although he did make sacrifices, it makes me think more of my daughters. But I just liked the song because I like bluesy darker songs. First you think it’s about one thing and then it becomes about something else.”

The movie Deja Vu was shot in New Orleans, the first movie to be shot there since Hurricane Katrina. “I was here in LA for the Northridge earthquake. I know the feeling of destruction, of a place being just empty and a whole community traumatised. Where is everybody? Everybody’s gone. Empty houses and cars stuck up trees. Tony had initially felt the movie would work there so obviously I said let’s get back there. We spent tens of millions of dollars, hired local people, stayed in hotels, so it was good to be a small part of giving something back.”

You imagine him being driven by wanting to be good yet he has never been active in politics, never wanted to define himself as any kind of role model. Have you ever considered getting politically involved. “No,” he says insistently. “I vote, I pay taxes. One has to realise one’s limitations. I don’t just want to do things because I’m famous.” He is however committed to an involvement with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. “I do support other things but I stick with that one because I’m like, hey, let me get one thing right. We’ve gone from 2.2 million to 5.7 million children that we take care of around the world, from 2,000 clubs to 45,000 clubs.”

He says that a boys club helped shape and guide him in his childhood. He may say he’s not political but if he can do something he does. Next up is the movie American Gangster directed by Ridley Scott. It’s set in Vietnam and it’s about a drug lord smuggling heroin into Harlem in the 1970s by hiding stash in the coffins of American soldiers returning from the conflict. He’s still suffering a bit of jet lag from filming in Thailand but says he doesn’t want to talk about that movie. He doesn’t want to talk about his next directing project. “I just want to get it done before I chit chat too much about it. I want to make sure it happens before I talk about it.” His first directing project was Antwone Fisher which dealt with a boy’s physical abuse. It was well received but not an enormous box office success. “I thought be careful what you ask for. Before it happened I was terrified, couldn’t sleep, had to see a chiropractor. I thought it was the scariest thing I’d ever done. Once it started I really enjoyed it. It’s all about jumping into the water and having faith.”

Are you scared about anything else outside work? “Did I say I was scared of anything?” OK, sorry, what excites you then? “My children. That’s much more exciting than going to work. Watching them grow, finding out what they’re all doing. But you know Paula Patton reminded me of what being scared and excited in this business really meant. I’ve made a few films, been in the business a while, some thirty something red carpets, when you meet someone for whom it’s all new you realise how fortunate you are to be in this position where you are actually jaded. It was also a good reminder that fear is good. A healthy scare is good.”

He may not like to be analysed. He loves to analyse other people. He wonders what it would be like if he had to play me in a movie. I ask him would he do that? “With love and tenderness. Get in contact with my feminine side. I wouldn’t even worry about finding out about you the journalist. I would like to find out about the you inside, the you that you left behind. I’d want to get the smell right. I don’t think guys care about smell. We have two smells, good and mm, I don’t know. You were asking me what were you feeling what were you thinking. A man does not want to think that much.” This man may say he doesn’t think very much, but he thinks very intensely all the time.

Everything Denzel Washington says is said with incredible force, warmth, and he savours every word. He is in his suite at the Four Seasons, Beverly Hills. I arrive as room service leaves. He perches over his lunch of a giant juicy steak. He’s just cut a chunk. It’s hovering on the end of his fork just about to go into his mouth and he decides to inhale me instead.

“What are you smelling of? You smell like a lei, Hawaiian flowers, the one beginning with a g.” He opens his mouth and his nostrils at the same time. Shoves the piece of steak in and chews heartily. “Mm, it’s the g flower, the gardenia one. Isn’t it?,” he says excitedly.

“It’s called Carnal Flowers,” I tell him.

“Carnal flowers,” he says, salivating and cutting off another piece of steak. He’s very excited. And his excitement is somehow infectious. He likes to play around. He likes to joke, even though of course he takes his craft ultra seriously with an absolute eye for the minutest detail. And I wonder if the overt smelling was a reference to the movie Deja Vu where smelling is an intricate part. If you smell something it’s a trigger, it can take you back. If you smell something you feel it, you’re in the real world, you’ve not slipped down a wormhole as he does in the movie.

Deja Vu is a murder mystery, an understated romance, the ultimate surveillance that involves time travel. “I don’t know where I got that smelling thing from. I think I just did it and Tony Scott said yeh, do that some more.”

In the movie it was as if he needed to smell to feel he was real. “It’s about using all the senses, not relying on what you see, what you hear, what you smell and ultimately what you feel.

You get the impression that Denzel Washington has the hugest capacity to feel. Everything he does is filled with a raw and deep emotion, even just chewing his steak. The ultimate guy’s guy that is also super sensitive. Tall, sharp, funny. The overriding sense you get from him is that he is super protective – of himself, if you go in too far too deep too soon he doesn’t like that. Of his family, particularly his daughters. Of his co-star Paula Patton in Deja Vu. His whole protectiveness elevates the story from one of a simple thriller to something that is personal, intimate, something that really matters. He is even protective of me. The last time we met I was almost passing out with pain (stomach cramps). He was more like a doctor than an actor in that interview. You tell him these things and he doesn’t like compliments. I tell him that he came over as such a force of shiny protection. “Well I did not think I was shiny and protective. Thankyou, but that’s not how I see myself. Maybe I could have played that part in a different way, like a dirty twisted old man. Maybe that’s a different movie. Maybe it was just that Tony made a really good choice in Paula because she’s a real sweet person and that comes across. You want to protect her. Me, protective person? Hm. Yeh, yeh, yeh. All this as I eat my steak. Well you know it’s coming up to Thanksgiving. Get turkey for the next five days. Got to get my steak in now.”

He likes to present a thin facade of machismo. Wrap himself up in it, but he knows it’s easily unravelled. Even when he played the brutal narcotics detective Alonzo Harris in Training Day there was something wounded about him. That’s what makes Denzel a great actor. You don’t feel for him, you feel with him. As Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter the boxer wrongly accused of murder in The Hurricane his sweet stoicism made you cry and got him an Oscar nod. This kind of emoting the audience first became apparent when he inhabited the role of Steve Biko in Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom in 1987. A whole slew of films Man On Fire, Manchurian Candidate, Inside Man have all demonstrated Washington’s capacity for toughness with an undercurrent of vulnerability. He is complex and instantly accessible, was once called “so handsome he should be illegal” and he is of course deliciously handsome. And here he is right in front of me smelling me, if somewhat ostentatiously, just because he knows it will amuse me. He knows how to get right to you. He knows how to carry you along.

In Deja Vu you are left contemplating the universe and every relationship you’ve ever had. Deja Vu is in itself a bonding phenomenon. Everyone’s had that flash that you meet someone new and feel you’ve known them all your life, feel inexplicably in love with a stranger. In the movie flipping back in time is possible, and that’s how deja vu is defined, that you have been there before. It raises the question, if you could do it all again could you, would you. In real life deja vu is a trick of the mind, is it a dream. In the movie it involves an extreme form of surveillance where you look at something and as you’re looking at it you can travel in time. It involves the highly complex notion of the parallel universe and slipping down wormholes into alternative dimensions where the same thing is going on but just a little earlier. If you have the power to slip into that dimension do you have the power to change it.

“Be careful what you ask for,” Washington wags his finger.

The movie’s convolutedness and complex science are made tangible by Washington’s very fleshy, sensuous performance. He’s an ATF (Tobacco and Firearms Agent), he’s an everyman. You figure it out with him. He’s good at taking you on journeys.

I tell him, ‘You must have had deja vu moments with a string of interviewers asking you what is your favourite deja vu moment?’ “Aha, ha, ha. I usually turn it on its ear and ask them the question back.”

Typical Washington, he’s always more interested in asking the questions. He has an insatiable curiosity as well as a liking to duck and dive.

“Scientists talk about how we use only ten per cent of our brain. What is the other 90 per cent doing? That’s where the intuition, the feelings, the deja vus, all that stuff. It goes there. I think as we advance our interactive skills, our information skills, our brain is getting weaker and weaker because it doesn’t imagine. Like your mother would tell you a story and you would imagine all the characters. If you listen to the radio or read a book you make the movie in your head. Now it’s all given to you on a plate. You have a television with 500 channels. The muscles in the brain are getting weaker.

“Maybe deja vu is some sort of intuition. You feel you know this person well. It’s as if you’ve met them before but you’ve just intuited who they are.”

I tell him I’ve always thought his powers of intuition have been strong. “What do you mean?” He’s almost shrieking, offended. I feel you intuit a part, a person, you’re always looking for different angles, always asking questions, curious, it’s like you’re switched on the whole time.

“Ah,” he says. “I think I’ve worked on developing that muscle. One spiritual journey develops that muscle. I’ve gone through the eastern philosophies, Christianity, Buddhism, Swamis, and back to Christianity and Islam. Just searching. I mean Siddharta by Herman Hesse is my favourite book because he was walking the earth, praying, searching. I kind of had that vibe and curiosity. It leads you to your own philosophy, like working on what that 90 per cent of your brain is doing.

“Is it OK to be a searcher and a carnivore?” he says. Maybe he isn’t sure of how the extremely spiritual side of him fits with the grounded, the basic. And maybe that’s the key to him. It’s a key that he doesn’t want me to find. He hates being analysed. “We don’t understand oxygen but we keep breathing.

“I think if this movie is about anything it’s about if you could change anything would you. Doing this movie shows me that I would not want to do that because of the domino effect. If you changed one thing how would you change another.”

It’s not that Denzel Washington had a charmed life that makes him think he would not want to change anything, but there’s a determination about him and a stoicism that makes him work hard for what he wants and a spiritual side that makes him accept what he doesn’t get. He’s not your typical movie star. He doesn’t love glamour or bling. I’ve read that his wife had to persuade him to upgrade his car into something a little fancy at a time when he could have gone plushy luxury. Recently a friend of mine was in her local video shop. Browsing among the shelves she found a random man and asked him to recommend something. They were out of his first recommendation The Da Vinci Code so he went with Inside Man and when she got it home she realised that the man recommending it was the star of the movie. So there’s a Hollywood rarity, he goes to the video shop himself.

He was born in 1954 in Mount Vernon, New York, a mostly middle class mostly white suburb. His father was a preacher who worked for the water company in the day and as a security guard at night and preached in between. His mother, a formidable figure, ran beauty salons. His parents divorced when he was 14, which coincided with his own teenage middle child (of three) rebellious phase. He was a keyboardist in a band with three friends who all ended up serving time. It was one of those fork in the road moments. His mother, upon the recommendation of a school’s career officer, who felt he was intelligent and had a chance of a career, sent him away to boarding school where he found a group of bad boys who could afford to buy drugs. He’d never touched a drug or drink before that. Despite the potential bad influence he did well, went to college to study medicine, then changed to political science, then he thought he might be a lawyer, and then he found he could act and potentially be all of the above, or at least have the experience of feeling what it would be like to be them.

I wonder if he is most like his devout preacher father who hardly ever watched a movie, or his tough love mother. “Similar? You might have to ask my mother that. He’s gone,” he says in a whisper. His father died 15 years ago. “I wouldn’t dare say.” Back in Denzel boom he says, “Closer to, that’s different to similar to, isn’t it. I would say that the mother is the one that is there so you are always going to be closer to your mother. My own children are probably closer to my wife. They have spent more time with her. She knows them better. That’s the way it is in most homes.”

His oldest boy John David is 22 and a football player with the St. Louis Rams. Katia has just turned 19 and Malcolm and Olivia are 15-year old twins. “Maybe it’s chauvinistic, sexist, but I don’t worry about my son the football player. He’s out of the house, he can take care of himself. But with my oldest daughter, she’s away at college but she came home for the holidays. I couldn’t sleep, it was two in the morning, I was going down the corridor. Was her car there, was she in her room? If she’s at college I know she’s staying out late but I don’t think about it. When she came home it seemed to pick up right where she left off. But yeh, I would say that my parents were protective and controlling when they needed to be. And of course I’m a protective parent.”

He’s also a protective partner. It’s been said before that he doesn’t easily do love scenes and never would want to show them to the public before his wife of 25 years Pauletta could see even a kiss first. Twelve years ago they renewed their vows in front of Archbishop Tutu and then a gathering at Nelson Mandela’s house. He says that stories about his unwillingness to take his shirt off have certainly been exaggerated. In Deja Vu though the romance is all the more powerful for being underplayed.

“I think it’s sexier that way. We could have been jumping on the mattress every ten minutes, but that wouldn’t have been right. It wasn’t even scripted that I kissed her, I just did it and that was enough. I mean, my character has just saved her life a few hours ago, I think it’s much more romantic and more interesting to be about what you don’t do. I love a big part of this film was a love story in reverse. My character meets her when she’s dead and he tries to treat her like just a piece of evidence, the body, but as things unfold he gets the chance to watch her live and be with her watching her for days.”

Do you think watching somebody is about protecting or controlling? “Oh, I think there’s a thin line, but in the film he’s not controlling because he has no idea he can actually do anything about it.”

What makes his character and Denzel himself have an extra edge of charisma is that there is always the potential for darkness as well as sweetness. This is the third time he has worked with director Tony Scott and when he cast him as the former FBI agent who liked to get maudlin at the bottom of a bottle in Man On Fire he said that he thought Denzel had a dark and obsessive side.

“Dark, obsessive, sweet, protective? I don’t work with any of that. I’m neither. I’m me. I do a job, I interpret a role. I think we all are those things at the same time and I don’t think, ooh, let me access the sweet now. It’s not like I’ve got 12 different things I can do and I’ve got to work off one. There’s several of them going on now in this interview. I am sensitive, intuitive, there’s a dark obsessive side, and a carnivore. That’s trying to pin me down. Mm, carnal flowers, that’s who I am. No, if I were a perfume it wouldn’t have a title, I wouldn’t name it anything.”

What would it smell of? What note would it have? “Minor chords,” he nods. “Minor chords.” he still plays music, “but not enough. I’ve been listening to this girl Ayo and she has a song that she sings about her father and how she did not understand the sacrifices he made when she was growing up. With the song she apologises for the hard times she gave him. It doesn’t specifically make me think of my father, although he did make sacrifices, it makes me think more of my daughters. But I just liked the song because I like bluesy darker songs. First you think it’s about one thing and then it becomes about something else.”

The movie Deja Vu was shot in New Orleans, the first movie to be shot there since Hurricane Katrina. “I was here in LA for the Northridge earthquake. I know the feeling of destruction, of a place being just empty and a whole community traumatised. Where is everybody? Everybody’s gone. Empty houses and cars stuck up trees. Tony had initially felt the movie would work there so obviously I said let’s get back there. We spent tens of millions of dollars, hired local people, stayed in hotels, so it was good to be a small part of giving something back.”

You imagine him being driven by wanting to be good yet he has never been active in politics, never wanted to define himself as any kind of role model. Have you ever considered getting politically involved. “No,” he says insistently. “I vote, I pay taxes. One has to realise one’s limitations. I don’t just want to do things because I’m famous.” He is however committed to an involvement with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. “I do support other things but I stick with that one because I’m like, hey, let me get one thing right. We’ve gone from 2.2 million to 5.7 million children that we take care of around the world, from 2,000 clubs to 45,000 clubs.”

He says that a boys club helped shape and guide him in his childhood. He may say he’s not political but if he can do something he does. Next up is the movie American Gangster directed by Ridley Scott. It’s set in Vietnam and it’s about a drug lord smuggling heroin into Harlem in the 1970s by hiding stash in the coffins of American soldiers returning from the conflict. He’s still suffering a bit of jet lag from filming in Thailand but says he doesn’t want to talk about that movie. He doesn’t want to talk about his next directing project. “I just want to get it done before I chit chat too much about it. I want to make sure it happens before I talk about it.” His first directing project was Antwone Fisher which dealt with a boy’s physical abuse. It was well received but not an enormous box office success. “I thought be careful what you ask for. Before it happened I was terrified, couldn’t sleep, had to see a chiropractor. I thought it was the scariest thing I’d ever done. Once it started I really enjoyed it. It’s all about jumping into the water and having faith.”

Are you scared about anything else outside work? “Did I say I was scared of anything?” OK, sorry, what excites you then? “My children. That’s much more exciting than going to work. Watching them grow, finding out what they’re all doing. But you know Paula Patton reminded me of what being scared and excited in this business really meant. I’ve made a few films, been in the business a while, some thirty something red carpets, when you meet someone for whom it’s all new you realise how fortunate you are to be in this position where you are actually jaded. It was also a good reminder that fear is good. A healthy scare is good.”

He may not like to be analysed. He loves to analyse other people. He wonders what it would be like if he had to play me in a movie. I ask him would he do that? “With love and tenderness. Get in contact with my feminine side. I wouldn’t even worry about finding out about you the journalist. I would like to find out about the you inside, the you that you left behind. I’d want to get the smell right. I don’t think guys care about smell. We have two smells, good and mm, I don’t know. You were asking me what were you feeling what were you thinking. A man does not want to think that much.” This man may say he doesn’t think very much, but he thinks very intensely all the time.

Joanna Lumley (May, 2016)

It’s almost like a scene from AbFab. As I enter the Soho Hotel room where I am to interview Joanna Lumley I see her precariously hanging out – whole torso out – of the second storey window. Her hand wafting a cigarette into the crisp London air. “Darling you don’t mind, do you?” She’s smoking in a no smoking zone. But she has to, she just has to.
Then it’s a warm cashmerey hug hello. She looks ravishingly good. The big expressive eyes, the trademark platinum blonde hair although it’s not in a Patsy beehive. The beehive for the upcoming AbFab movie was in fact a wig. “Darling, my hair wouldn’t have been able to take it.” She’s wearing a pale grey wrap, dark trousers, trainers.
The real life Lumley is understated and effortless but the lines between the actress and the character of Patsy do blur. Lumley likes to drink Bolly, just not quite as much as Patsy. The cigarette is never far away. “I know, it’s ghastly isn’t it?” she says in that distinctive velvet purr. Are they the same person? She laughs her deep chortle. “Well, not quite but I own her; she’s mine. I’m not her but she’s mine,” she says with immense pride. Does she give her the excuse never to give up smoking? “I don’t need one,” she says drily. It’s getting harder and harder to get the whole torso out of the window and try to smoke secretly. “It feels like I’m back at school. Why did you give up,” she says accusingly. I tell her I was coughing all the time and people said ‘you should give up’. She nods. “How unpleasant. I’m married to a smoker and that helps. Because if you smoke at home and your other half smokes, you’re as happy as hell smoking. I don’t think I’d smoke if Stevie didn’t smoke.” Stephen Barlow is her conductor husband of 30 years. They smoke in the house? “Oh sure darling, it’s compulsory.”
Just sitting with her for a few minutes makes me feel I can’t wait for AbFab The Movie. “Working on it was terrific. People say to me ‘will it be the same? Will it have lost its AbFab flavour?’ I don’t think so. The five of us are all in the centre of it. Jennifer Saunders, Julia Sawhla, Jane Horrocks, Julia Whitfield.” The five Js – that’s what she likes to call them. “And the old favourites who pitched in over the years like former Spice Girl Emma Bunton and Lulu are in it again.” Lulu is usually mocked. “Very much so, absolutely. She’s one of the Edina’s clients – and she does nothing for them – so she and Emma Bunton are pretty resentful. It’s really quite good. Instead of getting a half hour episode you just get it much bigger.” Her eyes seem to pop with excitement, not much else moves in her face. I’d been given a gift from a beauty PR liquid botox that you don’t have to inject called Fillerina, I wondered if she’d be a bit embarrassed to receive it. “Darling, bring it on! Where is it?” she says.
AbFab The Movie has been in the works for years. What does she think made it suddenly go ahead? “Dawn French made a deal that if she [Jennifer Saunders] hadn’t done it by Christmas, she’d have to pay her £10,000, so she wrote a treatment and the film was green lit in the spring of last year and we were filming it in October in London and the south of France.” I’ve heard that Edina and Patsy disgrace themselves at a party and have to leave the country they are being pursued by the police and run to the South of France. She nods. They have run to the South of France because they’re being pursued by the police. “They’re also completely skint as Edina’s client list has certainly not been expanding.” She’s only left with Emma Bunton and Lulu? She nods. “They’re divine. The reason they are such stalwarts is that both of them have appeared in many episodes and always in the humiliating position of being treated badly or being forgotten about. We’ve also got the glorious Kate Moss in the movie. She was divine and charming and very good.
“A bit of a smoker It’s so funny to be in a film where you smoke and nobody is saying ‘actually, I’m not sure the character should be smoking’. They smoke and that’s all there is to it.” I’d heard that Patsy had modernised to an ecigarette. “No. The talk of vaping comes into it at some stage. Patsy doesn’t vape, obviously. Nor does Kate Moss.” What about drinking? “Plenty of that darling. They basically have drunk the place dry. They’ve run out of Bolly. Do you remember where Edina had a little kind of bowling alley where the champagne bottles were just drop back and it was always full. Well, it’s all gone. So times are very tight when you get to that. I adore Bolly. I think a glass of champagne is hard to resist. And a cocktail is always nice. Martini or margarita – always exciting.”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Patsy eating. “She had a crisp once and jolly well nearly choked. And one Christmas episode she decided to have a bit of turkey and was taken off in an ambulance because she’s had most of her organs removed so eating is not an option. She gets all her sustenance from the drugs and the drinks she consumes. She is a cartoon character. She would be long dead if she were alive.”
I think one of the reasons we love Patsy is because we all know someone who she could have been based on. Did she base her on anyone in particular? “No, I made her up or rather she was a character waiting to be uncovered. So many people say ‘my mother is Patsy’, ‘I’m Patsy’, ‘my aunt is Patsy’. To a certain extent maybe there is Patsy in all of us but hopefully not too much because she’s pretty ruthless.”
I’ve also read that the real Lumley rarely eats meals and prefers a crisp or a nut. “No. I didn’t actually say that. I said at cocktails parties I like to eat the crisps and nuts because I don’t eat the smoked salmon because I am a vegetarian. It was all taken out of context and it went pretty crazy. I had to fight a rear-guard action from people saying ‘what a criminal thing to say to young people “live off crisps”.’” She shakes her head gravely. “I can’t imagine Patsy cooking but I can cook. I was never taught to bake and I have a savoury rather than a sweet palate but I would like to learn how to make cheese straws. I could live off cheese straws along with the margaritas and the champagne,” she jokes. “I don’t follow recipes very closely but I can cook. I’m a rather basic cook, not a chef.” She may say she’s basic at cooking but her achievements are actually extraordinary.
Lumley is known as a woman who gets things done whether it’s aid, to her beloved Gurkhas or building a garden bridge across the Thames and, of late, she’s made many documentaries with diverse subjects such as Elvis, the Trans-Siberian Express and Catwoman (The History of the Cat) and Saving Orangutans. “I don’t think I always get things done. I think I always fight to get things done, they don’t always end up happening.” Now she’s doing that very British thing of downplaying her achievements.
“To put a soberer spin on it I am fighting for things like compassionate world farming, fighting for a better life for farm animals. You don’t get it done easily, you do it inch by inch. You get their cages made a little bit bigger. It’s never accomplished but you keep on fighting and the Gurkhas was something I was proud to be involved in but it wasn’t really me, it was a team of us. My father was a Gurkha (she was born in Kashmir, British India) and my whole young life was,” she searches for the word, “Gurkharised.” They were a family and the idea of your family being so badly treated by a government, successive governments, was something I had to fight for. A wrong was righted.” She fought for the British government to pay their “debt of honour” to Gurkhas who had fought for Britain. Those who had retired before 1997 were awarded the right of settlement in the UK.
I like the campaigning Lumley, she underplays it. There’s no fuss, no extravagance but a very solid core of a woman who does indeed get things done. And just when I am thinking how very unPatsy she is she says, “Darling this present sounds extraordinary. You put this stuff on your lips and it makes them plump? What a kind person. It’s not a needle? It’s like squeezing an icing tube. Oh my darling, it’s going to be my next Christmas present to everybody. Fillerina, oh!”
Whatever she’s had done or will have done to her face, there is no way she will ever look 70 (in May). “How did it happen? 70? Life just gets quicker and quicker. The other day I wrote a cheque and I put 06. That was not a slip of the pen but a slip of the brain. I skipped a whole decade. The word 70 on paper looks so not what I feel I am. Although there’s something rather thrilling. We don’t any of us know what 70 is anymore.” Is 70 the new 50? “I think everything now is the ‘new something’ compared to our grandmothers. At school I thought teachers who were 42 had to be helped onto a bus. Patsy stopped ageing at 39, that’s what she admits to but she’s clearly more like 93. But I have always longed to be older than I am. I don’t know why.”
When she was 18 she wanted to be 30, when she was 10 she wanted to be 18. And now? “I always felt that there is a goal that I am getting towards. An Olympic flame would be there. I always thought that it would gradually get better and I would get nearer to the heat, as it were. And to a certain extent that’s proven to be true. I mean, I’ve never worked as much and as hard as I am now on so many projects.” She has made over a dozen documentaries and is involved with 70 charities. And she’s directing a short film.
“I’m interested in poetry and the film is going to be called Poetry Off The Page. If you think how things like War and Peace which was a book made into a film, this is a film made from a poem. I want to do it in a kind of way where you learn a bit about the poet and understand where it would be set. The actor I’m working with is Dominic West. Not too bad, eh? His gorgeous velvety brown voice is reading the poems. Mesmeric. So a lot of stuff is happening.
This was not always the case. “In the early days where I would think ‘I can’t get a job’ – that was difficult. Those days ended with The Avengers.” The Avengers were in the mid- to late-Seventies, the era defined by a haircut called the Purdy named after her character in the show. A generation of woman tried to emulate this sculpted bob. “The two characters for which people kindly remember me have both had distinctive hairstyles which defined them.” She is indeed remembered for the Purdy and the Patsy.
The Avengers did indeed change everything. Pre-Avengers were panicky times. She was a model/actress and a single mum of son Jamie. The relationship with his father had ended. She married the writer Jeremy Lloyd in 1970, it lasted only a few months. “I was pretty strapped for cash. Counting the pennies before I would go to the supermarket. I knew I was rich when I could afford to buy cheese and didn’t look at how much it would cost, I’d just take it and put it in the basket. I love cheese and when I could only buy a small piece of the most basic cheddar and suddenly I could buy any cheese I wanted, I felt rich.”
At the point that she was buying the very small piece of cheddar, did she ever starve herself to get jobs? “No, but you had to watch what you ate. I worked a lot as a model. I wasn’t a top model but I was in the top 10 and used all the time and in that time I only knew one anorexic girl who recovered because a man said ‘I love you but I can’t marry you if you’re as thin as this, if you get a little fatter, I’ll marry you’, isn’t that divine? When you look back at pictures of those days, most of us were long and slender but not very very thin. There’s an effort to be much thinner now and the girls are miles taller.”
She doesn’t complain about any of it but in her twenties there was a point where she had a panic attack. She was acting in a play and couldn’t go on stage. “It was pre-Purdy and it was very hard times. The stress of everything got to me. I was double, treble anxious about everything and that little thin wire which you always think you can keep going just snapped. It was awful.” It never happened again? “No, but it made me realise we all have frailties in us. It helped me get to know when such things might happen again. That way  I could prevent them or evade them rather than march into them. It’s what comes from being older now. When you’re young and you’re having a tough time, you’re struggling with ‘will I make it as an actress? Will I ever be able to feed my boy enough food? Will I get enough money to buy him more shoes?’ and all those anxieties about being a parent. These anxieties are quite often about logistics, if you’re kept late at rehearsal who’ll pick him up from school? Or who will feed the cats? If you feel you are failing them or that you are forever on edge about how you will accomplish what has to be done, it can gnaw away at you. But it all came good.”
Jamie Lumley is a photographer living in Scotland, married to a writer and they have two daughters. “He’s at the very top of Scotland and I adore going there. Even if you are walking across a moor, you never feel alone and I love the Scottish people. I am three quarters Scottish, one eighth English and one eighth Danish.” People seem to respond to the Viking in her – her blonde charisma and the force in which she gets things done.
She also used hypnosis to get over the feeling that she couldn’t go on stage. “I wanted to feel like Judi Dench when she stands in the wings every night and says she can’t wait to get on the stage rather than ‘bloody hell, we’ve got two today’. I thought I want to be able to love it so I went to a hypnotist and asked can you change my mind and make me long to do the show. Eight shows a week, week after week. He didn’t put me out but he altered my mindset. I can’t remember him doing anything except talk to me and now, I love it. You’ve still got to learn your lines and all that business but now I think ‘oh, I’m going to have a really good crack at it.’. I wonder why people don’t use hypnotherapy for everything actually.”  ‘I’m afraid of the dark, get hypnotised’; ‘I’m afraid of flying, get hypnotised’.
“Maybe you can be hypnotised about losing your temper. I try not to and I don’t quite often but if I do lose my temper now either my head would come off or I may kill something.” You get the sense that underneath the glorious manners and charm Lumley is very contained. It’s all on the inside. “In Japan politeness is everything, I realised that I find it incredibly courteous and sweet. Manners maketh the man.”
She’s shortly off to Japan for a documentary. “It’ll be a three-parter all about Japan. I love making them. I love travelling and exploring. And it’s such a pleasure to bring it back to people who then stop you on the Tube and say ‘I loved that’.” Does her husband ever join her? “No. These things are done on small budgets. There are six of us, we all travel light with a particular job and I never trail around after him when he’s rehearsing his operas. I adore opera and when he’s finished I go when he’s ready to show me. If we’ve got time, by which I mean more than a few hours together, we’ve got a cottage in Scotland and that’s our bolthole where we can race up to and we just walk about in the hills, talk to each other and laze around. Sit by a fire, read books. If we don’t have time, we’re at home and we talk all the time. And we catch up on things like The Night Manager on television.
“I first heard his name when he was 13 and I was 21 and I remembered that name. There were various places where I almost met him. I nearly met him when he was 13. It was such an odd thing to remember. It’s a perfectly ordinary name. I met him ten years later when he was playing the organ at a friend’s wedding. We were both doing different things: I was with somebody else and he was just leaving university. Then we met again eight years after that and then it was the right time. With hindsight he was always the right person, otherwise why did I remember his name.”
Have all her husbands been charming? “I love the way you say ‘all’. There was one previous one and he was Jeremy Lloyd – immensely charming. Writer of Are You Being Served and ‘Allo Allo but I was married to him for about 20 minutes. I loved him and he loved me but we shouldn’t have got married. We remained close up until the time he died, which was over a year ago. I’m sad that he’s gone but his charm was wonderful.
Lumley and Patsy both inhabit a charmed world. Patsy, of course, has no charm whatsoever, her charmlessness helps to make her the hilarious cartoon she is and distances her from Lumley who is quite possibly the most charming person ever. “I’m so excited about going to Australia. I’ve only been to Perth and that was years ago. I was thrilled to learn we’re doing a premier in Sydney and will get to go to Melbourne as well. Darling, how lovely will that be!” And the thing is, she really means it.

Click here to read Chrissy’s interview with Jennifer Saunders

Selena Gomez

Selena Gomez & Chrissy Iley

Selena Gomez arrives to meet me for dinner at a cosy restaurant in the suburbs of LA. She’s alone, no entourage, no fuss. She is newly skinny in a cream plunging V-neck, leather jeggings and black-strapped stilettos.
Her face is endearingly shaped like a moon.  Her skin impeccable, her eyes orbital.  Her lips poufy and juicy in a pale crimson lip balm. She exudes sweetness and poise in equal measure.
You can see why she was credited with being the stabilising influence in Justin Bieber’s life when she was his girlfriend for two years until 2013. And there were a few hook ups after that. She is incredibly calming. She has always had focus, graduating from the Disney school of child stardom to become a fully fledged actress as well as pop star.
The video for her latest single, Good For You, showcases sexiness and devotion; how she likes to be with her man. Shot partly in virginal white T-shirt and partly naked and pouting in the shower.  Except “I was covered from here to here,” she gestures from her cleavage downwards.
I read that the lyrics on her album Revival were inspired by her relationship with Bieber. I say his name.  She doesn’t flinch. And that his upcoming album is about her?  “It’s difficult for people to separate us. The internet wants to freeze this moment in time and constantly repeat it.  There are a couple of songs, Every Step and Closing, that are inspired but it’s also just about two people.
“I want people to see that there is strength in it and there is pain. Hopefully the album will speak for itself.  I’ve had no movie or album out for a year. What else are they going to talk about? The same thing over and over again.  There’s going to be a day when there’s a new young person who is hip and I’ll be married with children and it won’t be as bad. This industry does not dictate my happiness. If I lost everything tomorrow I’d be devastated but also know that my self-worth is not based in this industry. I’ve seen how it destroys people.”
We are now sharing some ravioli, which is delicious.  Is she in love right now? “No. I’ve been working my butt off. I’m dating but I don’t really want anything right now.”  Does she fall in love easily? “No,” she says firmly.
She was 23 in July, a Cancer. “I’m true to the sign. I am very nurturing. I take care of my friends, I’m sensitive and emotional and I love being at home.”  She lives with some flatmates, her mum and stepdad Brian close-by. For a while her mum helped manage her. Now they are producing partners.  Her parents were only 16 when they had her. As they are close in age, did she and her mum feel more like friends? “Never, not at all. She’s always been my mother. She’s the reason I’ve never succumbed to the bad part of what this industry is. She gets very scared for me, when I get criticised, when I had helicopters above my home. Helicopters?” She shrugs. “Absurd. My past relationship was a hot topic.
“I don’t draw a lot of attention to myself when I’m in public. I don’t travel with an entourage.  Of course there are ways in which I have to edit my life. Even just leaving my house I might take separate cars and bend down in the back seat because I don’t like to have photographers if I’m trying to have a nice day out.   It’s absurd wandering around with 12 people taking your photo.  They think if you have success they can do whatever they want to you. And that is a scary place.   But I am not the kind of person that likes a fuss. I never say ‘I can’t do this’”.
She stays grounded by keeping the same best friends that she grew up with. She grew up following in the footsteps of Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift. A specific generation of good girls who had to navigate growing up and their sexuality in public. Gomez has cited Britney Spears as a role model – which is weird because Gomez’s transition from being a poppet in the Disney empire has been far more graceful than Spears’s.
“I can count on one hand the people that I could call and they would be there for me. Taylor Swift I’ve known for seven years and she’s one of the greatest people. When I split up with my first boyfriend (Nick Jonas of the sibling then squeaky clean pop group The Jonas Brothers) and I was really sad about it, she flew into town with homemade cookies and a bunch of junk food. She was 18 and I was 16 and to this day if I call her she would do the same thing despite being one of the busiest people in the world. I knew her when I was with Disney. “Disney was good training. It prepared me for so much.. I was grateful.”
Why does she think she has such drive? She recalls, ‘I love Texas, my biological father lives there. (YES HE IS ALIVE) I moved here (to LA) when I was 13. I was excited but I would also sob every day because I missed home so much.  My mum would ask me if wanted to go home.  And even though I felt there was a hole in my heart I said ‘I can’t go home’ and I don’t know why that was.”
She intends to continue balancing a music and acting career. “I want to be challenged. I’m thirsty for that.”
Her fans call themselves Selenators. She has 39 million Instagram followers. ‘I feel like as well as the fans I’ve grown up with, there is an older audience as well.” Her voice on Good For You is a raspy purr.
She is such an interesting mix of innocent and wise. Her father used to take her to Hooters [a sports bar famous for it’s buxom waitresses in skimpy uniforms] when she was growing up.  “My father had me at 16. What do you expect a young guy to do? It wasn’t bad. I still go to Hooters today, I go with my boyfriends. I would sit there and colour in pictures and that’s when I fell in love with basketball because he would got there to watch sports. My dad loves me, I was his world.”
When she was dating Nick Jonas in 2006-7 they wore purity rings. “I did and I’m not embarrassed to say that.  I’m also not embarrassed to say that that ring has come off. I got it when I was 13 and I respect so much what it represented. But it isn’t for everyone.” She was massively made fun of at the time. “Sometimes you have to lie to yourself to get through the criticism and then you’re in your closet crying. It’s been like that for me a couple of times.  But I only want to learn from those things.  Make them a part of me but not let them define me.
“At school I was not popular. I was not focused on my looks. I wasn’t a girly girl. I wore my hair in a ponytail and a hoody. It was vicious. I got through it because I was obsessed with Ab Fab. I walked around gesturing the martini and the cigarettes. The sarcasm and timing taught me to get through a lot of awkwardness in conversations.” She gestures the martini and cigarette. Laughs.
Gomez is even more beautiful in person than in pictures. Yet on a recent radio show she rated herself only a six or seven. “Every person has days when they wake up feeling super sexy and there are days I look like a hot mess. I want people to know that I don’t think that I am perfect.” She flutters an eyelash and looks at me rather pleadingly. She wants people to like her, she wants to be ordinary yet from a very young age she has lived an extraordinary life.
She was born in Prairie, Texas in 1992. Her father Ricardo is of Mexican descent and mother Mandy of Italian heritage. Her parents split when she was a few years old. Her mother struggled financially. When she was nine she got a role in Barney and Friends which led her to the Disney TV show, The Wizards of Waverley Place, when she was 15.
It seems that she has been working her entire life. She seems much older, an old soul. “I have been called that before.” Does she think she’s lived on this earth before? “Maybe. But I also think my work ethic has made me understand how the world works.  I’m very much an observer. Maybe I was here in a past life but I also know that I’ve learned so much in this life and I have so much still to figure out.”
She has a teeny-tiny musical quaver tattooed on her neck.  “That was my first, I have six now. My mum’s birthday on the back of my neck, G for Gracie, she is my little sister.  And there’s a quote about finding your own strengths.”
Feeling strong is something that Gomez aspires to. Although there have been days where she admits to feeling “pressure” like the couple of times she found a helicopter above her garden trying to spy on her and her then boyfriend Bieber. She’s not a person who moans about the paparazzi.  She accepts it comes with the territory. Does she Google herself? “Yes, sometimes,” she tells me.  “Not everyday. But if I think there is something I should be aware of because people are talking about it.”
A few months ago, there were pictures of her looking like she had gained a few pounds. Today she looks super-svelte. “I have definitely been taking care of myself. I’ve been hiking and I have been cooking a lot.  Before I was able to eat just what I want but that doesn’t happen anymore.  I’m from Texas so I love fried food.  Sometimes I make fried chicken and waffles for breakfast but I’ve had to cut back.”
She is wearing a solid silver collar. It looks like a dog collar.  And a little S&M. It’s a statement piece of jewellery that says, ‘I have transitioned from being a Disney screen princess.’
“Most people have such a misconception of child stars, they think they are thrown into it and don’t want it. I think younger stars get targeted because it’s easier. I’m trying to figure my life out. I’m not saying I won’t make any mistakes but I am going to make my work a priority and stay extremely focused.”
Does she find it hard to navigate her sexuality and love life in public? She nods solemnly. “No one signs up for that. Every experience I have had has been beautiful genuinely.  But it’s also been a huge factor that almost destroyed me.”
She’s referring to Bieber. “It was people having an opinion on a choice that you make and you don’t want to be criticised for that. I didn’t think I was doing anything bad by falling in love. There’s such an emphasis on people being the perfect thing and then destroying them because it’s good press.   Also throw in the fact that you are a teenager it makes it more difficult. Now, at 23 I am able to step back and know that there are things that I will have to accept that are different in my life.  The next relationship will be something dear to me…” Her voice trails off. She offers me some of her tuna tartar.  “There is no way I will ever hide my life…”
It’s a tricky navigation, to be honest and try to preserve privacy.   “Some days I wake up and I hate it.  I wish I were never in the spotlight. Then I say ‘this is a life I chose.’  I work really hard, I love my job more than anything. It goes back and forth.”
I have interviewed many celebrities who have given me the ‘I don’t want to talk about my private life speech’, but never one so heartfelt.  Besides, she’s not closed, she’s open. Choosing a role in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers in 2012 was the first indication of her transition. The film was about debauchery on a spring break: sex, drugs, darkness, bikinis. Gomez was the only one who kept her bikini on.
“Spring Breakers was a crucial decision because I wanted to change the dialogue of who I am.” It was a rites of passage movie.  “Yes, I was in that place for sure.  Harmony wanted me to audition for one of the other girls’ parts. But I didn’t feel comfortable doing that.” (The other girls’ parts were more sexually overt, more reprehensible).  “I was 19 and I could relate to (her character) Faith. I’ve lived her life a little bit. More innocent than the other girls.” And she never got naked.  “That was a plus. I thought ‘I will save that for later’”.
Is faith still important to her? “I’m proud of having faith. The quote on my Instagram is ‘By grace through faith’ – one of my favourite lines from The Bible. It’s about handling every decision as gracefully as possible.”  And with that she graciously orders the bill and insists on paying for dinner.

Ian McKellen (May, 2015)

Ian McKellen and Chrissy Iley

The first thing you notice about Ian McKellen is the blueness of the eyes.  It’s almost other worldly in its sparkle. One can’t use the phrase ‘piecing blue eyes’ because they do not pierce you they do not even look at you.  He in fact looks out, as if on a stage, to the view at the large window that overlooks The Thames.

We are seven floors up in his hotel suite in Canary Wharf, which is just around the corner from his home.

I remember those eyes. Specifically I remember them gleaming out on stage where I have seen him in Macbeth, Richard III, Bent. He has this unque ability to make everyone in the audience feel he is looking at them and make them understand Shakespeare even though they went just to see him. They are the eyes of Gandalf the kindly wizard from Lord of the Rings epics.

He is tall, slim handsome.  Dark grey skinny jeans, black boots, blue shirt.  He doesn’t dress like a man of 75 (76 on May 25). He looks much younger than I expected but that could be because I’ve just seen him play the 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes in the exquisite film, Mr Holmes.

I wonder did it unnerve him to play someone so close to death?  “I am 76 this month.  People you know very well die all around you, so you discover you do think about death quite a lot; theirs and your own.  So to play someone who at the onset, who is so old and is trying to find some sort of elixir of life to remember everything – I can understand it.

“Playing old used to be a matter of deciding which foot to limp on. But it’s up here,” he points to his head. “You have to tell your brain how old you are.  It’s a cliché isn’t it? But inside you don’t feel your age but you are reminded when you take your pills or in particular when friends are dying, that at last mortality becomes reality.”

I find this strangely emotional, even though he didn’t mean it to be. I’ve read how he completely underplayed his need for hearing aids, dental implants and the removal of cataracts from his eyes. He even shrugged off his diagnosis of prostate cancer assuring us he was completely fine.  I shudder. Mortality is horrible. “I don’t know about that. It’s what happens?

“I’ve seen quite a few people at the ends of their lives and they all seem ready for it. I think the preparation has been going on for some time.  You are frightened aren’t you? And as you get older you accept it. Deaths of friends that are accidents, mistakes are dreadful for them and the people they leave behind. But if I saw an obituary that said Sir Ian McKellen died aged 76 you would think ‘well he had a good life.’”

What? There’d be a nation in mourning. And yes, we would be shocked because 76 doesn’t seem especially old. “Young people say he’s really old, he’s well into his forties.”

Does he hang out with many young people? “Sometimes. Sometimes not. If I have a party there will be people my own age and younger ones. Friends who have children. For them the younger generation is a big part of their lives. I do have young people I’m fond of….”

He seemed to become super friendly with Harry Styles when they met on the Graham Norton Show. Did they stay friends? “We exchanged emails. He wanted to see the latest Hobbit film and because of who he is he couldn’t easily go to the cinema so I arranged a screening for him in New York. Since then he has had other things to do…

“I think it’s a mistake to restrict your friends by age.  You wouldn’t say I only act with people my age.”

The Mr Holmes he played was a brilliant man who was losing his mind and trying to remember everything. Was that frightening to connect with?

“No. Most parts you play you have some connection with. You just say he’s that sort of man, I’ll adjust to his way of thinking. The work has been done, the lines have been written.  It can sometimes be enough just to say the lines. You don’t see the significance of what you have said until you see the film.”

It was perhaps more poignant for me because my father had a brilliant mind that he lost to Alzheimer’s.  McKellen suddenly looks up and at me, right at me for the first time. “Was he miserable?”  No he was angry. He wanted to know the details, the minutiae of his mind unravelling and how long it took. I notice he is much more animated, much more comfortable talking about other people than himself. But then again he is much more comfortable being other people.

“Mr Holmes doesn’t have dementia, he’s got most of his faculties.  He’s just trying to gear himself up with energy and solve problems, which I think is very optimistic.  And you feel at the end of the movie that he’s a better person for what he has discovered and for what he goes through. So for me it wasn’t depressing at all, it was a sunny film.”

I wonder has he seen the other Sherlock Holmes’s, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Downey Jr. Which was his favourite? “I’ve not seen Robert Downey Jr’s. I’ve seen little bits of the Benedict one which was clever and witty.  My favourite was Jeremy Brett for Granada Television. He took the character very seriously. It’s a detailed performance, very black, upsetting and not comfortable and I think that’s what I like about it.

“There have been so many actors  that have played Sherlock Holmes you can’t worry about how good other people have been otherwise you would never play anything, Hamlet or Macbeth. I’m quite used to playing parts other people have played,” he says demurely.  “Of course they didn’t play this particular Holmes. It is mine, I’m the oldest Holmes so far.” He smiles as he says the word “oldest” with relish.

The movie meshes the past and the present. It’s rather haunting when it trails back, searching and nostalgic. Does McKellen himself look back or live in the present or future?

“I just had a very nostalgic three days with my cousin Margaret. We worked out quite quickly that even though we don’t see much of each other, we are each the person the other has known the longest.  There’s nobody who’s known Margaret longer than I and vice versa.  Is that nostalgic?  We spent a lot of time remembering things that happened and talking about our parents.

“I wish I had been more nostalgic for the past when my sister Jean was alive.  She was five years older than me and died six years ago.  Together we would have remembered things about our childhood that now I’ll never know. Things that happened in the war. I was thinking about writing a memoir so I’m trying to remember the evacuees that stayed with us.  We lived in the north and they were evacuated from Middlesex. The father was a fire fighter so he didn’t come but the mother and her two children came, Tony and his younger sister, I can’t remember her name, and we lived together for a year.  Can you imagine, a little house, four of us and then suddenly three strangers moving in.”

McKellen was born in Burnley, grew up in Wigan and later went to Bolton School for Boys where he was head boy.  His father Dennis was a civil engineer and a lay preacher, his mother a theatre lover and home maker.

“I try not to think of the future, I catch myself thinking I’m glad I didn’t have any children. I would worry for their future. Besides I don’t think I would have been a very good parent. I don’t think many people are. I think it’s the most difficult thing anyone can do.”

Did he never think about being a parent? “I’m a gay man. In my generation you would never imagine having children. Some people want that. But I see my friends struggling with being a parent. You have to be so generous don’t you?”

Does he mean gay or straight friends? “Both, I don’t think there is any difference except perhaps if you are a gay parent you must have thought really hard about having children. It would never have been a quick night in the sack.

“I don’t think gay man of my generation ever thought about it.  We didn’t think about getting married. The state wouldn’t allow gay relationships to be declared.  And then they pointed at us and said look, they are irresponsible, they are not like us, they don’t have families.  No we don’t because you tell us we can’t. It’s silly.” He says all this matter of factly, the anger sucked out of it. It’s an inner dialogue that must have gone on for so many years of his life. He knows its every twist and turn.

He came out when he was 49, almost by accident on a Radio 3 talk show when he was discussing Clause 28, the 1988 bill that said no public servant, including teachers, could be seen to be promoting a gay lifestyle. He has always talked about coming out as a huge relief. Of course his friends and theatre family knew he was gay and he was fully established in his career but letting the world know was not just an emotional milestone it paved the way for other actors to declare themselves.

At the time he was Britain’s most famous theatre actor. It is only after this date that what were to become his most renowned film roles started to come in – The Lord of the Rings movies, the X-Men franchise, The Golden Compass, The Da Vinci Code,  Gods and Monsters.

Perhaps it was easier because at 49 the romantic lead roles were dwindling and many of his characters were asexual. When Rupert Everett came out he said that he regretted it because then he was never taken seriously as a heterosexual romantic lead again.  “Rupert is a bright man and that was how it seemed to him. But I would not say that is true for me. When an actor’s career doesn’t go in the direction they want it too it’s not just down to one particular reason. I suspect his views have changed now. I would take acting out of the equation. I have not met anybody who thought that coming out wasn’t the best thing they had done in their life. It was the most important thing, life changing and life-affirming.”

I wonder if coming out is an old fashioned phrase as things have moved on immeasurably.  “I know people who are not at ease saying they are gay but I don’t know many young people who have problems with it.  I hope in fifty years we will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.”

For him and his generation things were much harder. Life was closed and full of stressful secrets. It is perhaps easier to come out to your friends then siblings and parents last.

McKellen’s mother died when he was twelve. “That relationship is irreplaceable. When my father married two years later I think one of his motives was to provide me with a mother, which she never was.  She was Gladys and I had a very different relationship with her. I ended up being very close to her. But she wasn’t my mother and I would love to have known my mother as an adult.

“My father died when I was 25 (killed in a car crash). We weren’t that close and for the previous four years I’d been at university.  I don’t know how different my life or my thinking would have been if they had both been alive.  There would have been a lot for them to get over. In that we weren’t a family who….” He pauses, even now finding it difficult to find the right words.

Confronting who you are and telling your parents in a time when it was illegal would have been so hard. His first proper love affair was with history teacher Brian Taylor from Bolton. It began in 1964, coincidentally the same year his father died. It endured until 1972. Six years later he met Sean Mathias at the Edinburgh Festival and they were together as a couple for a decade. They still work together. Mathias directed him in Waiting For Godot (2009) and together with another businessman they purchased the lease on The Grapes pub in Limehouse, close to where he lives.

There is nothing about him that seems extravagant.  He is not over the top with his emotions?  Does he do anything that is excessive, luxurious? “Compared to other people my house is luxurious, but it’s within my means. And I’m never tempted to live anywhere else. It roots me.”

It is in this moment that I wonder how different he would have been if his mother had not died. What if he could ever have confronted his feelings? He would he have ever have come out at all? Did his parents easily access their emotions and talk openly?

“There was a lot of love and caring and no-one ever lifted a hand in anger. But they were not emotionally open. It never became a problem but I think it would have done if they had been alive. We didn’t seem to talk about things that were important. I would have to have come out and God knows how that would have gone down.  It’s a deep regret that I didn’t have the chance to tell them.”  He has stopped looking out of the window. The conversation is suddenly important to him.  As his mother died when he was twelve, surely he didn’t know then if he was gay.  “No I didn’t.”  Post war Britain didn’t encourage introspection, it encouraged getting on with things.  He nods.  “Clearly there are a lot of families that don’t really nurture each other and some that do.”

Perhaps the fact that who he really was had to remain hidden and disconnected from his parents. It informed his desire to be an actor where you are connecting with everybody. “That is an astute observation and there is some truth in it.  One of the things that strongly appealed to me about acting was that it was a substitute for real life.  I know more about acting and what it involves, it’s effects, it’s craft than I do about anything else in my life.  I think I’m a good actor but I couldn’t say that I have a strong grasp of other areas.  So initially it was a substitute, a lot to do with being gay, unable to be myself in real life because the law said you couldn’t be. That suppression is cruel and barbaric.

“Within the theatre, one could not only express emotions publicly, although not your own – they were your own but filtered through a character. So that was an outing, a healthy one within the community of theatre. There was acceptance and love that you didn’t get anywhere else.”  Does he mean the theatre was his real family?  “That is right.  Acting is not about ego and drawing attention to yourself, it’s about getting on with people and doing it together… but then I have to come and talk about myself,” he says with a gently raised eyebrow.
He really doesn’t like revealing. It’s not in his make-up.  He’s learned too well to keep important things hidden.

When he was 18 he won a scholarship to St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge, to read English Literature. A grammar school boy suddenly mixed in with very posh people.  Was that alienating?

“There were a lot of divisions when I was university between men and women, between boys who had come from doing their National Service and those who had come straight to university.  They had killed people and now they were coming back to the rules of the university.  There was a division between north and south and I was mocked for my accent.  There were scholarship boys like me and those from southern public schools.  Many divisions, and that was just one of them. Those divisions helped you to find yourself and find your friends.”

Trevor Nunn, David Frost, Corin Redgrave and Derek Jacobi were all at Cambridge around the same time. He had a secret crush on Derek Jacobi, the actor with whom he stars in the ITV comedy series Vicious where they both play outrageously mean and camp individuals. Back then it could not have been more different. “I wouldn’t take it any further then, you just didn’t. We didn’t ever talk about being gay, it was a secret.”  They didn’t even come out to each other.

“My best friend at school qA David Hargreaves. We acted at school, we went to the theatre a lot, we were inseparable in the way kids could be. Right thorugh school. He ended up a professor of education at Oxford and Cambridge and he was gay. We never knew, we never talked about it. Isn’t that interesting?”

They were kindred spirits and didn’t realise why.  “Even my friendship with Derek we never called ourselves gay. I can’t remember what we did call ourselves. I remember I was meeting people like myself and many of them would go to the theatre but I didn’t wake up sexually until after Cambridge.”

Did he ever have a girlfriend.  “Who I had sex with?” He looks a little shocked.  No, had feelings for, who he kissed, who he felt maybe he could go there with?  “Yes, a little bit.  It didn’t seem quite right to me. I had a few who were a bit sweet on me and of course I couldn’t tell them I wasn’t attracted to them so I went along with it, a little bit.  I was experimental as many straight men were experimental. I don’t mean to make it sound clinical. I had some very close relationships with girls that had I been straight would have led onto a serious relationship. Of my closest friends there are as many women as there are men.” Does he want to fall in love again?  “No it’s nothing I would like in my life. My passion in life is that I know a bit about the status of gay people in this country and around the world.  It’s nice to have something that I have a strong feeling and connection with.”

I’m slightly haunted about his mother.  About if she hadn’t died when he was so young how he would ever have come out.  And what a difference that would have made in his life and what a difference that would have made in the rest of the world as so many gay men have looked to him as a mentor.

“I didn’t know my mother was dying. She was sleeping downstairs and had been in hospital. I didn’t know she had a mastectomy until after she died. I was away on a school camp.  I thought she was ill but she was going to get better. I didn’t see her in any distress.”

The 12-year-old McKellen chose not to come back for the funeral which seems to illustrate just how separate he could be from his emotions and the deep places he found to bury them. Emotions that later would be filtered through characters that would dazzle us.

He did once go back to the house they lived in growing up and talked to the woman who had bought it. “We had moved from Wigan to Bolton and that was where my mother died.  The woman who bought the house (in Wigan) claimed that on the day my mother died, she felt a presence.  She didn’t know that my mother had died but she found the lights being turned on and off and then she thought she saw someone come up the stairs. She had the idea that my mother would have gone back to the house where she was happiest at the moment of her death.”

In 1998 he did a one-man show called Knight Out in which he discussed his life and career. The speech that he would do at the end was called Letter to Mama by Armistead Maupin.  It was the letter that Maupin wrote to his mother when he came out.  It would touch everyone in the audience. Perhaps because he was using it as his channel. Perhaps it was the letter he would have written to his mother telling her things that he could never have done.

“I’d been watching some little films that my uncle took. My cousin Margaret bought them down. My father was a handsome bugger and my mother was pretty. You see them as kids just getting married. They couldn’t have known what they were letting themselves in for.”

From whom did he inherit the electric blue eyes? “I am colour blind so eyes don’t register with me. It must be the blue shirt that makes my eyes look more blue.” The eyes, his mother’s eyes, twinkle, the same other worldly twinkle.

Mr Holmes is out June 19

Sophia Loren (Seven Magazine, Sunday Telegraph, Nov. 09, 2014)

Sophia Loren has always seemed to epitomise glamour, pure sex and the Hollywood state of mine, even though many of her movies were in fact Italian including Two Women, for which she won an Oscar.
There is probably no greater on screen chemistry than Sophia Loren and Cary Grant in Houseboat (1958). They met when they made The Pride and the Passion in 1957. They were really in love. Or at least she was enthralled with him. And he was besotted.
I loved the chapters about Grant in her autobiography Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life as a Fairy Tale. They shimmered with charm. The book is poetically written and reasonably entertaining. It is a detailed account of her life in movies. Forensic details about actors, actresses, directors, sets. Sharply contrasted with the poverty and desperation of her war torn childhood without a father.
I have gone to Geneva where she has lived for the past 36 years to meet her. In a quiet chi-chi hotel penthouse suite I am ushered in and there she is. She handles herself with grandeur.
She is wearing a black and white trouser suit. Her late husband Carlo Ponti once told her she should always wear suits. She is slim and voluptuous. A great body, even at 80. Her breasts still buoyant. Her eyes brown like chocolate melted over honeycomb. Giant eyelashes, giant lips.
She has always had the giant lips. After her very first photo shoot she was told that her facial proportions were wrong. That her nose was too big. And she wouldn’t dream of changing anything. She knew who she was.
So it is with sadness that I note the evidence of some facial landscaping and her hair is in fact a rather stiff wig. Nonetheless it is still her. She is still full of Italian mama warmth and spiky charm. She misses nothing and gives the impression that she is fresh and tireless.
Has she always been a write? ‘I used to write in my diary every day. I am a Virgo, so annoying and boring. I found the diary and I said let me see how many years ago I wrote this? And I saw many things in it. Many things that I didn’t want to ever let go from my own intimacy. So I tore out the page. And then another. And then another.
‘And then I thought I don’t want these books to be around if I’m not there one day. I would like to keep my privacy. All these things have to be finished. So I burned them. All of them.
‘So every year when I write my diary. A phrase here, a date there. A note about meeting someone. And every year I destroyed them. There are some things I want to keep just for myself.’
I’m rather puzzled at why she’s written an autobiography and she’s here to promote it and she tells me first off she burned the juicy bits. It’s not that the book is bland or without detail. Her childhood for instance lays out so many details you can practically smell the Parmesan cheese being grated. That’s if there was a cheese. Most of the time they were too poor for cheese and had to beg people in the street for a crust of bread.
Later on where she talks of her desperation for children and her endless miscarriages, it’s gruelling and after that when she was wrongly imprisoned for tax evasion, her prison diary reads like a scene from a prison B Movie. Now I want to know what she’s left out.
‘The book is a story of my life read as a story. I think you put other things in a diary. Just feelings, not facts. Perhaps nothing to do with your life. Anyway, why should I give it all out?’
She comes over as an interesting mix of shyness, reserve, confident to the point of fearless, open and wary in equal parts.
‘I wanted to give in the books the facts of my life. How I succeeded. How my life was during the war. I wanted to do that with all my heart because people have written books about me and sometimes it was not real, people completely made it up. Sometimes they put in something they read in the papers.
‘It’s not like I wanted to put the record straight, just that I wanted to say what happened to me, because I am proud. I was really a nobody, a little girl, unhappy, in desperation because of the life I was living with my family and no father. Everyone was starving during the war.’
Her voice trails. What she was starving for all her life was a father. She had a father. She knew him. But he never married her mother. Her mother looked like a starlet. It was her dream to be an actress. Her mother Romilda Villani won a contest held in Italy by MGM Studios to find the new Greta Garbo when she was just 17 and the prize was to go to Hollywood. Her parents said she was too young and wouldn’t let her go. Romilda, according to her daughter, ‘oozed allure.’
Instead she had a passionate, calamitous on off relationship with Riccardo Scicolone Murillo and became pregnant with Sophia. Riccardo came from a good family but was one of these aristocratic losers. He gave his name to his first child but Sophia had to buy his name with her first pay cheque for her sister Maria.
The older authoritative male figure is something that she was always searching for, which is perhaps why she felt so instantly at home when she met Italian film producer and director Carlo Ponti, who was nearly 22 years her senior. Cary Grant was 30 years her senior.
She doesn’t remember ever thinking she was beautiful or special, but she found her old school book, part of the inspiration for writing her memoir. On the first page it was written in Italian “Sophia Scicolone will become a great star.” It was some kind of premonition that she would be famous. ‘Why did I write that? I don’t know. I have no idea.’
The book must have been some kind of catharsis for her. She looks blankly. I’m not sure she understands the word. Sometimes she answers in Italian. She does perk up when I talk about her father, as he seems to haunt the book. He buys her a present, she loves it, she’ll keep it forever. Then he disappears. He gets back together with her mother and then they break up. They get together again and he leaves her again and again and again. At what point did she decide he was a useless human being?
‘When you are five, six, seven, y